Stories about: Allison O’Neill

Five years after stem cell transplant complications, he’s an active teenager

Drew at 2014 Be the Match Walk in NYC. His stem cell donor lives in Germany.

“It’s eye-opening to realize how fragile life really is when you’re young.”

Drew D’Auteuil certainly knows whereof he speaks. He is a 16-year-old animal-loving, skiing, rowing, volleyball-playing, honor roll student and licensed driver with braces and a shock of red hair. In April 2010, five months after receiving a stem cell transplant to treat the blood disorder severe aplastic anemia, Drew suffered rare, life-threatening complications.

One day Drew was biking with a friend near his New Hampshire home, suffering little more than a mild cough. The next day he was in the intensive care unit at Boston Children’s Hospital, intubated because of respiratory failure. Soon other organs were failing, too. Quick action by ICU and transplant clinicians saved the boy’s life.

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An unusual route to saving a child’s eye

Poppy Biagini (left) and Liam Klagges (right), each with the white glow of retinoblastoma in one eye. (Courtesy Dana Biagini and Amy Klagges)

All Poppy Biagini’s family knew was that something was off about her right eye. Liam Klagges’ family’s first sign that something was wrong was that his eyes didn’t always track properly, and that his left eyelid hung a little lower than his right.

Both children, it turns out, had a tumor called a retinoblastoma. Usually diagnosed in children younger than 5, it’s rare—only about 300 children in the United States are diagnosed with it every year—but grows rapidly from the back of the eye. For that reason, doctors have to start treating it as soon as it’s diagnosed, lest it fill the eye or start invading surrounding tissues.

There are a few different ways of treating retinoblastoma, such as chemotherapy, radiation or enucleation (surgical removal of the eye). But both Poppy and Liam’s families elected to try something different—a procedure called intra-arterial (IA) chemotherapy that delivers treatment right to the tumor. Today, both children still have both eyes because of it.

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