When Sydney Scott was diagnosed with cancer at 13 weeks old, her parents, Mary and Kevin, were devastated.
The bad news kept coming. Sydney had acute myeloid leukemia (AML), an aggressive blood cancer. About half of children with AML are cured, but a cure is less likely if the child is under a year old or has a high white cell count, which Sydney did. "It was all bad news," Mary says.
After learning more about the standard protocol for treating AML in children, the Scotts didn't like the odds it gave Sydney. They wanted another option.
Soon, they contacted the experts in the pediatric blood and marrow transplant program at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital. Since performing the world's first successful bone marrow transplant in 1968, university physicians have been at the forefront of research to improve outcomes for children with cancer.
"We had a feeling they would approach this differently," Mary says.
And they did. University of Minnesota Children's Hospital pediatric oncologists John Wagner, MD, and Brenda Weigel, MD offered Sydney a chance to participate in a clinical trial. Through this study, Sydney would get the standard two rounds of chemotherapy, followed by an umbilical cord blood transplant with experimental mesenchymal stem cells.
Researchers believed these special stem cells would help the transplanted healthy cells "stick" in the bone marrow, improving the odds of a successful transplant—and Sydney's survival.
Mary and Kevin decided to try the experimental therapy. "We took a leap of faith," Mary says. "If the therapy improved Sydney's odds at all, we wanted her to have it."
In 2002, Sydney became the first in the world to receive these mesenchymal stem cells along with a cord blood transplant.
In the five years since, Sydney has done amazingly well—no relapses, no medications and no special trips to the doctor's office. "She beat every odd known to man," Weigel says.
The Scotts are forever grateful for Sydney's health and for the individualized treatment she received from Wagner and Weigel at the children's hospital.
"You say 'thank you' to someone who holds the door for you," Mary says. "You say 'thank you' to someone who fills your water glass. 'Thank you' hardly seems like something you'd say to them ... but there's really no word for extreme gratitude. They're our heroes."
By Nicole Endres, Minnesota Medical Foundation