Mike Burley / email@example.com
Cyre Harris, 9, left, Aydn Harris, 2, and Taja Harris, 7, posed last night for a family portrait with their mother, Jo Ann Dillabough, near their Makakilo home. Taja, who has leukemia, had cord blood donated by Aydn which in turn saved her life.
Umbilical cord a lifeline for 2 kids
No match could be found to provide bone marrow to help 4-year-old Taja Harris battle leukemia, until the birth of her brother whose cord blood gave the gift of life.
» What: Hawaii Children's Cancer Foundation "Jungle Adventure" at the Honolulu Zoo
» When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow
» Why: The annual event raises money to help children with cancer and their families.
» Highlights: Games, bouncers, rides, prizes, refreshments, food and entertainment, including by Kaukahi, the 2007 Na Hoku group of the year
» More info: Entry fee is $5 (children 6 years and under free). Free parking and trolley service from Kapiolani Community College. Use Monsarrat Avenue entrance.
» Website: www.hccf.org
"Because we hadn't been able to find a match in the registry, I decided to get pregnant to see if I can make a match," said her mother, Jo Ann Dillabaugh. "It turned out to be a perfect match."
Right after brother Adyn's birth, the cord blood, rich with bone marrow-type stem cells, was extracted from the severed umbilical cord and later transfused into Taja in the first sibling cord blood transplant in Hawaii.
Adyn's middle name is Kamakanaokeola, meaning "the gift of life."
Taja, now a healthy and happy 7-year-old, loves to run, tumble and play with her older sister and younger brother, now 2, whose blood DNA she shares.
The second-grader loves recess and math at Makakilo Elementary School, where she is on par academically with her classmates, something Dillabaugh said she was told not to expect since most children who undergo chemotherapy are prone to learning disabilities.
"She is doing wonderfully," said Dr. Kelley Woodruff, pediatric hematologist oncologist. "There's still no evidence that the cancer has come back. ... She's a delight.
"I expect her to live until old age and healthy and cancer-free," said Woodruff, who performed the transplant.
"It was like a new life was born with the baby being born, and Taja was given new life," she recalled.
Doctors first diagnosed Taja with leukemia at 3 months. Then just before her second birthday, they found she had non-Hodgkins lymphoma and discovered a tumor "as big as a baby" that stretched her uterus, her mother said. At 3 1/2 years old, Taja relapsed with leukemia.
Taja had undergone years of chemotherapy and radiation. The community held a bone marrow drive, and people had their blood tested, Dillabaugh said.
Taja's older sister Cyre, now 9, was tested and was not a suitable bone marrow donor, so Dillabaugh decided to get pregnant.
Although Taja is left with scars, her bright personality seems unscathed. She giggled as she showed off an 8-inch surgical scar across her abdomen.
"I still remember the old days when I couldn't brush my teeth," said Taja, who recalled the "huge bubble scab" when she developed herpes on her mouth that fused her lips together. During the transplant she had no immune system, her mother explained.
Taja received high doses of chemotherapy, which killed off her own bone marrow and stem cells. When she was infused with the cord blood, the stem cells, like homing pigeons, went to the bone marrow and remained there to create new blood cells and will remain her whole life to keep propagating new blood cells. Now Taja shares her brother's blood DNA, even having XY cells because they are from a boy.
Dillabaugh hopes that her family's story will encourage other women to donate cord blood. "For every one that's thrown out, that's a life that could have been saved," she said.
She also hopes others will participate in helping other children with cancer and their families by attending tomorrow's Hawaii Children's Cancer Foundation "Jungle Adventure" at the Honolulu Zoo.