Health Team

Argentine boy heads home after stem cell transplant at Duke

Posted July 11, 2013 6:24 p.m. EDT
Updated July 11, 2013 6:30 p.m. EDT

— Almost a year ago, when 11-year-old Lautaro Javier left Argentina for medical treatment at Duke University Hospital, his parents didn't know where they would stay or how they would get by in Durham.

They felt very much alone.

"Like a fish out of water," said Lautaro's father, Eduardo Javier.

But they went to the Ronald McDonald House, where they were made to feel comfortable and protected, he said.

On Sunday, after 347 days, the Javiers will return home.

"This week, it was very hard for us because we had to say goodbye to everybody at the transplant ward, all the nurses, everybody," said Gabriela Veronica de Pablo, Lautaro's mother. "It was very hard to say goodbye." 

Lautaro has a rare disease called metachromatic leukodystrophy, which causes an enzyme deficiency in his brain.

"That leads to damage in the brain and progressive brain disease, which is usually the cause of death," said Dr. Vinod Prasad with Duke's pediatric bone marrow and stem cell transplant program.

A stem cell transplant and therapy helped him improve in many areas – he can speak more with his family and is able to spend more time on his feet, with assistance.

Back home, celebrities and soccer stars helped raise a million dollars for the boy's trip and treatment. Now, Lautaro's supporters and family are waiting to welcome them home.

"They're waiting for us," said Eduardo Javier. "What we want to tell them is, 'When we work together, we can do it.'"