Tue, Nov 18, 2003 - Page 5 News List

American hopes to save daughter with cells from China


Twice in one year, the American woman journeyed across the ocean on the most urgent of missions -- seeking rare cells for the bone-marrow transplant that could save her adopted Chinese daughter's life. As each day passed, the chances only seemed to dwindle.

So when an apparent match was finally found, it made sense that Linda Wells had to see the cells for herself -- and hug the people responsible for finding them.

After a two-hour car ride from the Chinese capital, Wells found herself Sunday peering through a microscope at a laboratory in the port city of Tianjin. It was only then that she allowed herself to hope that Kailee, 6, ill for nearly two years, might finally get the help she needs to live.

"Today was the best day we've had since Kailee got sick," Wells, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, said. "I was very happy, of course, when they told me two days ago that they thought there was a perfect match. But I was still very cautious."

Now, she said, most doubts have been resolved. "It's the first day that I feel that we really can be positive and have great hope."

Kailee Wells has severe aplastic anemia, which prevents her bone marrow from producing new blood cells. Her mother, a lawyer, has had to stop working to care for her daughter full-time, and Kailee is too ill to attend school regularly. While she's had chemotherapy, her illness shows little sign of remission.

Wells had come to China looking for Kailee's biological family, who would be most likely to provide suitable cells. The cells at Tianjin's Union Stem Cell and Gene Engineering Ltd from a local one-year-old girl might well fit the bill, though the girl isn't related to Kailee.

"It would have been possible for Kailee to have a match from a non-Asian," Wells said in a telephone interview. "It's just the randomness of statistics, and it just happened that this baby from these two parents had the same DNA typing as Kailee."

Kailee is from the southern province of Hunan, while Tianjin is in the northeast, about 180km east of Beijing.

Kailee was found abandoned on the steps of a training institute for teachers in the Hunanese city of Changde. Given the name "Changban," or "never alone," she spent a year in an orphanage before being adopted by the Wells family. She fell ill just after turning 5.

Her doctors in the US have reviewed 8 million people on global donor databases in an increasingly more desperate search for matches.

Kailee's biological family still hasn't been found. But as Wells traveled around Hunan, her story was reported by Chinese media and attracted the attention of the researchers in Tianjin.

Cells from the Tianjin girl's umbilical cord not only match Kailee's, but doctors in Tianjin say there are enough cells in the cord for a transplant procedure.

American doctors refuse to accept marrow donations from people younger than 18 who aren't living under the same roof as the recipient, so the donated cells are from the umbilical cord and not the marrow itself.

Wells first traveled to China in February from her home to try to locate her daughter's birth mother. "This match would've been here when I came the first time -- already in the cord bank," Wells said. "But China is just gearing up and getting the details online."

Kailee's condition has been kept stable with blood transfusions, a catheter in her chest and a strict regiment of medicines, though doctors warn her condition makes her susceptible to dangerous infections.

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