Mary Webb was joined by her children, Quentin (16) and Jory (11), to speak at Cryo-Cell's Cord Blood Educator Conference this year. Quentin was the first patient to ever receive a combined transplant of stem cells from the placenta and umbilical cord blood. At the age of four, Quentin was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). She revealed her thoughts and experiences in dealing with her son’s cancer diagnosis and how, now, she is a strong proponent of umbilical cord stem cells.
During her speech, Mary recounted that a month after finding out she was pregnant with her second child, Quentin started having unexplainable aches and pains coupled with swelling of his eye. She states,
“One day it was the size of a golf ball, and the next day it was fine-- on and on, back and forth. All of this went on throughout the whole summer, and I kept taking him to various doctors. They would all patronize me and kept saying there was nothing wrong with him. Some of them even alluded to me being hormonal because I was pregnant. I almost can't fault them because on the day I would make the appointment, Quentin would be at death's door, but when we went to the appointment, he would be your typical, rambunctious, 4-year-old.”
After much frustration and Quentin’s repeated remarks about pain in his legs and his inability to walk, Mary made another visit to the clinic. The doctor ran many tests and told Mary that she would call first thing in the morning with the results. She recounts,
“She [the doctor] called three hours later--with instructions to pack a bag for an extended stay at the children's hospital. I asked if it was leukemia to which she replied that they would be better suited to give a diagnosis. But, to drive home the point about the seriousness of his illness and to provide me with an unofficial diagnosis, she said his platelet count was six. I remember in the summer; it had been significantly higher. She said if he got a knick of a cut, he would bleed out.”
After the initial disbelief, Mary phoned her family and friends of the news. One of those people was Mary’s cousin, who happened to be Quentin’s former pediatrician in Dallas. She was shocked to hear the news, but added something to the conversation that would forever change Mary and her family’s lives-- it was a good thing she was pregnant.
“Before I could ask her if she was off her rocker, she started talking about stem cells, and bone marrow, and Jory. I took her at her word because I needed something to be hopeful about, but I kind of feel that it's shameful, that as an educator, or better yet, just as a citizen in this country, I knew virtually nothing about what she was talking about--in 2007.”
Jory was born on December 3rd
, 2007, and Mary jokingly shared how Jory and Quentin looked like identical twins. Mary ultimately decided to retrieve her daughter Jory’s placenta and cord blood stem cells for Quentin’s transplant. Her son’s transplant took place during the Easter season, just two weeks after celebrating his fifth birthday. She remembers being told how she “probably would never need to use the stem cells,” but how thankful she is to have had them. She reiterated,
“I do wish that cord and placenta banking- be it private, public, donation, etc. will become a household practice. During Quentin's treatment, I received a brochure for cancer insurance, and I had to wonder--what better insurance is there than actual placenta and cord blood--the act of birth--that hospitals routinely dispose of?”
In fact, roughly 90%
of stem cells contained in the cord blood are discarded as medical waste. This is an alarmingly large percentage considering the fact that the stem cells found in umbilical cord blood and cord tissue are proving to be beneficial in the treatment of several conditions that may help that child or an immediate family member.
She concluded her impactful speech by stating,
We had a fairytale cancer journey. Where Quentin had been looking at a 5-7-year treatment protocol, from start to finish, from the time he was diagnosed to the time his transplant restrictions were lifted because of the transplant, we only did 18 months. We've been blessed profoundly by our journey."
Quentin and Jory attend Lafayette Academy Charter School and have a typical brother and sister relationship--filled with love and the occasional quarrels. Mary and her children were recently invited to speak at the Unite to Cure: The Fourth International Vatican Conference in Vatican City. As she described her family's experience with cancer, she reminded us all of how important it is that expecting parents know about the life-saving power that cord blood stem cells have. Her story is one of many that paint a picture of the hope that umbilical stem cells can bring in the lives of those who are affected by the 80 diseases
in which cord blood can treat.