Saturday, May 17, 2008

Local child gets sight back after stem cell treatment

Wednesday, 14 May 2008
By DAN J. BEILSTEIN This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it
SOUTH DAYTONA — Six months ago, former Port Orange resident Abby Wolfe said she would do anything for her 18-month-old son, Elioe “Tre” Burgos III. Elioe’s vision was thought to be no better than 20/1200. He was blind, and diagnosed with Optic Nerve Hypoplasia (ONH). Doctors informed Ms. Wolfe and Elioe Burgos Sr. that young Elioe suffered from an underdevelopment of his optic nerve. According to doctors, ONH is not progressive or inherited. Ms. Wolfe’s decision to embark on a medical journey involved researching umbilical cord stem cell treatments to grow cells needed to help improve Elioe’s sight. But, that meant raising money to pay for the operations and travel to China — where stem cell research is legal. The frustrated parents soon learned there were no medical facilities in the United States that offered the treatment Elioe needed. Next stop, China. “As a mother, I think you want to do whatever you can to prepare your child for adulthood,” she said. Ms. Wolfe and Mr. Burgos would travel with family support to China’s Hangzhou Hospital, in Hanzhou China. An entire floor is dedicated to stem cell treatments using umbilical cord cells — for cases just like little Elioe. In preparation, Elioe went through an exhaustive 10 medical appointments to prepare for the treatment. “We just wanted to get it behind us,” she explained. “It was a little scary getting off the plane. There were lots of nerves, but also excitement.” Ms. Wolfe said the first treatment was difficult. Doctors began a series of cell injections consisting of 10 to 15 million healthy stem cells per injection. Elioe and his family stayed in China from Feb. 20 until March 17. Ms. Wolfe said the treatments are new and the trial has only been active for about 11 months in China. “I think the first treatment was difficult because there weren’t a lot of results right away,” she said. Though Mr. Burgos attention was fixated on his son, he said he was amazed at the seven American families at the clinic for similar reasons. “We were all there for almost the same reasons,” he said. “The staff was professional. If you needed something, they got it — for everyone there.” Mr. Burgos told a story of a former rugby player who had suffered from muscle atrophy. He was almost bedridden when Ms Wolfe and Mr. Burgos arrived with Elioe. “I saw this guy go from bed-ridden to walking,” Mr. Burgos marveled. “Everyone on that floor made improvements. It was wonderful to share in other families successes.” “When we saw these American families — two of which were doctors — undergoing this type of treatment, it gave us confidence,” he said. Soon, results began to appear, Mr. Burgos explained. “Before we went, I just felt in my heart these treatments were going to do something,” he said softly. “We got more confident as the treatments began to show improvement.” When Elioe returned to the United States, his drastic improvement dumbfounded his doctors. “One said, ‘this isn’t the same kid,’” Ms. Wolfe recalled. “They didn’t know what to say.” What they marveled at was Elioe going from 20/1200 to 20/200 in less than three months, Ms. Wolfe said. “It was really amazing. He can watch the television now. He can see toys when his father hides them from him. He’ll look for them.” “He was a typical blind child before this,” Mr. Burgos said. “He was very limited. We we’re joking once, and thought now things are worse because he can see. He’s reaching for everything now and we have to hide things.” For both parents, Elioe’s condition and his improvement has taught them life lessons, they said. “I think it really impressed upon me that anything is possible,” Mr. Burgos said. “This whole thing was an adventure — emotionally, and physically exhausting, but worth it.” According to Ms. Wolfe Elioe still has almost seven months more time for improvement. According to doctors, patients continue to see improvement up to nine months after treatment. Elioe is only on his third month. “Every week, he does something new,” Mr. Burgos said. For Ms. Wolfe, she learned sometimes you have to try new things in order to find success. “It has amazed me,” she said. “By not excepting the conventional wisdom that there was no cure, that nothing could be done for him, we were able to improve the quality of his life in just weeks, and that will be maintained for the rest of his life.”
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 14 May 2008 )

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