Tue, Mar 11, 2014 - Page 5 News List

Ten-year-old donates stem cells to save brother’s life

By Stacy Hsu  /  Staff writer

A 10-year-old girl voluntarily donated her stem cells to save the life of her brother, who had a rare and aggressive form of lymphoma and could have died in months were it not for her timely donation.

The brother, a 12-year-old sixth-grader at New Taipei City’s Changan Elementary School named Yu Wei-heng (余瑋珩), fell sick in July last year, with a persistent high fever as well as itching and swelling all over his body, the Chinese-language Apple Daily reported on Friday.

Yu’s mother took her son to several local clinics to seek medical attention, but none were able to diagnose what was wrong with her son. Yu finally checked in at Taipei Veterans General Hospital in September, where doctors concluded that he had a rare form of lymphoma — T-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL).

T-cell NHL has a high mortality rate due to its unpredictable pattern of attack, Taipei Hospital hematologist-oncologist Chen Chien-ming (陳建銘) said.

“I was too scared to tell my son the truth, so I lied and told him it was just a cold,” Yu’s mother said.

After getting his first chemotherapy treatment, Yu became sleepy and lethargic, and lost most of his hair, his mother said.

She reluctantly told her son the truth about his health after he asked her: “How come my hair is all gone because of a fever?”

Unable to bear the side effects of the treatment, Yu refused a second round of chemotherapy. Knowing the risks of refusing treatment, his mother reluctantly allowed hospital staff to tie him down to finish the treatment.

“He constantly threw up during chemotherapy whether he had eaten or not. Sometimes he ended up spitting bile,” his mother said, adding that Yu only agreed to further treatments after seeing how his illness was affecting her.

Yu’s conditions stabilized after two chemo sessions and he was sent home to recover.

However, he suffered a relapse five days after being discharged from the hospital and doctors told him he had only six months to live.

“My son’s teacher and classmates wanted to throw him a birthday party at a fast-food restaurant on Oct. 22. I let him attend even though he was vulnerable to infection because it could be his last birthday,” Yu’s mother said.

Things took a sudden turn for the better in November, when the hospital informed Yu that his younger sister’s stem cells were a perfect match.

“Yu and his sister fought over almost everything, including the TV, bathroom and food ... but I always told him that he should be the one to make concessions because he was the elder brother,” the mother said.

“After the call from the hospital, I asked my daughter whether she was willing to ‘make a concession’ this time for the sake of her brother,” she said.

Yu’s sister said she used to hate her brother because he bickered with her about everything.

However, that changed after Yu’s disease prevented him from seeing his sister, the mother said.

Spending time apart made the two siblings realize that they cannot live without each other, she said.

With encouragement from hospital nurses, volunteer workers and her teachers, Yu’s sister agreed to donate her peripheral blood stem cells.

“If I do it, will mommy and brother be able to come home then?” Yu’s mother quoted her daughter as saying at the time.

Although the younger Yu briefly thought of backing out after undergoing a series of blood tests before the donation, the fear of losing her brother overcame her fears.

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