Cathy Pell Presentation at “A Toast”

Date: 06/20/2006

A Toast to Adult and Cord Blood Stem Cells: Helping Patients Now and in the Future
Senate Russell Office Building 385
Cathy Pell
Hello and thank you so much for coming to hear our story. I am Catherine Pell and this is my husband, William. We’re here to today to share the story of our youngest child, 21-month-old Abigail, who suffered serious brain damage at birth, but is developing at a faster rate than doctors ever predicted — thanks to injections of stem cells harvested from her own cord blood.

Stem cell research is not new as doctors have been curing cancer with stem cells for many years mainly through bone marrow transplants. But the type of stem cells most people hear about in the news are harvested from human embryos, which destroys the embryo in the process, and also from fetal tissue. This is very controversial and not to be confused with the stem cell procedure we are here to talk about today: stem cells taken from cord blood, which we know from experience, can significantly improve quality of life for very sick children.

Tragically, cord blood is usually thrown in the trash after a child is born because most people don’t know about its benefits and because there is not enough funding for harvesting and storage.

In my second month of pregnancy with Abigail, I decided to bank her cord blood after watching an Oprah show about a child whose cancer had been cured through injections of a sibling’s cord blood. Little did I know how important that decision would become to our fifth child.

During birth, Abby aspirated miconium fluid into her lungs, causing what doctors would later diagnose as moderate to severe brain damage. The prognosis was bleak. Doctors said nothing could be done to help Abby develop normally.

While the benefits of stem cells derived from cord blood are still under study, we became convinced — thanks to educational outreach by the Cord Blood Registry–that cord blood could help our daughter. We began the arduous search for a doctor who would be willing to infuse Abby with her own cord blood. This would be a 20-minute, non-invasive procedure, with zero risk to the child. After an exhaustive search, dozens of big-name hospitals turned us away, but Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg of Duke University agreed to help.

After her first infusion at four months, Abby locked eyes with me and smiled for the first time. Days later, her astonished visual therapist joyfully reported that Abby could track objects for the first time and had new endurance for her therapy. Before her infusions, Abby could only withstand 15 minutes of therapy; after only two treatments, she was alert for the entire hour, progress never predicted by her doctors.

According to her physical therapist, Abby has made huge strides in the past year, playing with toys appropriately and extending her arms to touch things. She is learning balance. She is blowing raspberries, which is an indication that Abby is gaining oral motor control, which is imperative for speech. She is taking the physical journey toward walking.

Our goals today are simple:

To educate the public about the importance of harvesting newborns cord blood, to support funding that will help further develop a specialized MRI to track the stem cells, differentiate the harvested stem cells, expand stem cells and figure out the best delivery options.

Thank you for your time.