When tiny Rilee was just three years old, the hospital staff used music to distract her as she struggled with a potentially deadly disease. "She had to be on transfusions to stay alive," says Rilee's mom Nicole Bjerke. But luckily Rilee, who's now 6, remembers her battle with aplastic anemia only from the pictures of her many weeks in the hospital.
"Aplastic anemia is caused by immune dysfunction," explained Dr. Shakila Khan, Mayo Clinic Pediatric Hematologist. As well as several other causes. Dr. Khan says what happened was Rilee's bone marrow, which produces blood cells, stopped working. She needed a bone marrow transplant to make it to her 4th birthday. Her mother says it was very hard emotionally. Not knowing if she was going to make it. To have a bone marrow transplant, you have to have a donor whose tissue typing matches yours. No one in Rilee's family did. But an unrelated donor did. The principle behind a bone marrow transplant is to get rid of Rilee's defective marrow and replace it with healthy morrow. Doctors do this by collecting stem cells from the donor marrow. First the patient has chemotherapy and radiation to wipe out the bone marrow. Then the stem cells from the donor marrow are injected into the blood stream through an IV. The stem cells migrate and form new marrow that hopefully produces blood cells normally. It worked for Rilee. Now she's disease free and enjoying life like any other kid.
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