Stories about: SCID

Two life-threatening conditions.
One remarkable wish.

Lucas, who received a 5-organ (multivisceral) transplant looks over his mom's shoulderWhen Lucas St. Onge blew out the five candles on his birthday cake, he made just one wish. He didn’t ask for ninja turtles, a T-ball set or an Xbox — the only thing he wished was to be just like any other kid.

“It was a gift I couldn’t give,” says his mom, Heather.

On that same day, last May, he got his wish.

“He got a liver, stomach, pancreas, intestine and spleen — the five organs he needed to help him become healthy and happy,” Heather says.

Heather was 18 weeks pregnant when she and her husband, Anthony, learned they were about to face a myriad of medical challenges with their unborn child. To what extent remained unclear, until the day Lucas was born.

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Newborn screening and gene therapy save baby from ‘bubble boy’ disease

Baby with "bubble boy disease" pictured with his family
Levi with his Dad, Phillip, and Colton with his mom, Kala (photo by Amie Van Amberg)

Happy to have given birth in January 2015 to two seemingly healthy boys, Levi and Colton, after an uneventful pregnancy, Kala Looks gave little thought to the routine heel prick of newborn screening. At 23 and 24, she and her husband, Phillip, were high school sweethearts starting a family.

Two weeks later, a Michigan state health official called. Something came up on Levi’s screen. You need to bring him in right away. Three weeks and numerous blood draws later, the Looks had a diagnosis: Severe combined immune deficiency (SCID) — “bubble boy” disease. Levi’s blood had only a few T cells, crucial ingredients of the immune system, and those were likely his mother’s lingering cells. Soon he would have no immune system at all.

That the fraternal twins are now healthy, active toddlers, climbing onto the dining room table and leafing through picture books and starting to talk, is thanks to newborn screening and a pioneering gene therapy trial at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.

Had Levi been born before October 2011, when Michigan began screening all newborns for “bubble boy” disease, he could well have died of overwhelming infection before his first birthday.

Instead, Levi has a functioning immune system after being treated in Boston as part of an international clinical trial of gene therapy for boys born with X-linked SCID. He is one of three boys treated on the trial’s U.S. arm whose disease was picked up by universal newborn screening, now standard in 42 states. Of the other four boys treated at U.S. sites, one from South America was diagnosed at birth, because an older brother had died of the disease. Three boys, from South America or states that didn’t yet have newborn screening, were diagnosed after suffering life-threatening infections that their bodies had trouble shaking.

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Saving six: Life before and after transplant

An organ transplant is a life-changing event extending far beyond the operating room, the clinics and the hospital walls. Read about five children, one young adult and their families, whose lives were forever changed by the Pediatric Transplant Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.


Lydia’s liver transplant, a mom’s gift

Living donor liver transplant recipientDawn Cavanagh gave her daughter life twice — first when she was born and, again, when she gave 13-year-old Lydia a piece of her liver last summer. The donor-approval process, which occurs with Boston Children’s partner Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, required hours of medical screening, including an interview with a social worker, who asked if Dawn expected anything in return for being Lydia’s liver donor. “And I said, ‘Of course I expect something,’” explains Dawn. “’I expect her to live a long and happy life, and I expect her to be with me for a long time.’”

More than a year after her liver transplant, for Lydia’s birthday, Aug. 1, the Cavanagh family went on Lydia’s Make-A-Wish trip, a Disney cruise to the Bahamas. “We had so much fun,” says Dawn. “She’s a happy kid. She has dreams. She wants to be a transplant nurse, and she wants to work on 10 South at Boston Children’s Hospital.” 

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