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Internet Leads Oregon Couple To Duke To Cure Child

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DURHAM, N.C. — Many people believe stem cells are a key to treating previously incurable disease. Duke Medical Center is among those leading the way, especially in the use of stem cells found in umbilical cord blood. An Oregon family hopes those cells will save their daughter's life.

Olivia Medici is celebrating her fourth birthday. Her biggest gift she could have received was a group of cord blood stem cells. Mark and Annalee Medici, of Oregon, hope the stem cells will save their daughter's life. Olivia has a rare form of MPS or mucopolysaccharidosis. She lacks the enzymes to digest complex sugars.

Since she was born, Olivia suffered constant ear and sinus infections. She was not developing properly with walking and speech. It was last August when they discovered what was wrong.

"Without treatment over time, the disease will mentally retard her, will incapacitate her because she will not be able to walk and eventually will kill her," Mark Medici said.

Olivia's parents were told there was no treatment, but Mark checked the Internet, which led him to Duke.

"For Olivia, the transplant is going to do two things. It's going to give her a population of cells that her body will continuously reproduce and which will make enzyme in her blood," said Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, director of the Duke Stem Cell program.

The stem cell transplant may save her life, but it may or may not improve her mental or physical development. Nothing is certain but the cost is close to $1 million.

"Yes, it's expensive, but you know what? You do it for your child," Mark said.

The Medicis' story is attracting financial help from people back home and others around the world. They do not expect to be back home until mid-summer followed by regular visits back to Duke for tests.

"It's going to be a long haul, but I'm telling you. Today was worth it. To watch those cells going into her body was amazing," Mark said.

Olivia is just the 15th child in the world to receive a cord blood stem cell transplant to treat her form of MPS.


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