One day before Sila “Jio” Boonklomjit was set to donate desperately needed stem cells to save his sister’s life, doctors made an alarming discovery: He’d contracted COVID-19.
The 5-year-old COVID-19 patient is now being credited with saving his big sister’s life by going through with an experimental procedure to cure her of a genetic blood disorder – without passing along the coronavirus.
Saying it was the first known case of such a procedure, Ramathibodi Hospital claimed victory yesterday after successfully transplanting bone marrow from Jio to his sister, Jintanakan “Jean” Boonklomjit, who was born with thalassemia and was in a severe condition.
“It’s as if my daughter is reborn and gets a new life,” said the children’s father, Suchai Boonklomjit.
Thalassemia is a hereditary disorder that limits the blood’s ability to carry oxygen and affects an estimated 1% of all Thais. Rather than being treated by ongoing blood transfusions, recent breakthroughs have shown it can be cured through gene therapy.
The procedure began in April but wasn’t completed until yesterday by Suradej Hongeng of the hospital’s pediatrics department.
According to Suradej, it was a long and uncertain road to this happy outcome. It had been difficult to find a donor compatible with Jean, leading them to settle on Jio as her best hope. After they were confirmed to be a genetic match in 2018, they prepared for the transplantation procedure.
Other difficulties followed, in part due to the young age of both patients. Moreover, Jean’s immune system was compromised by chemotherapy while Jio had to be placed in quarantine on the eve of the procedure. Doctors believe he was likely infected by his mother, Sasiwimol Boonklomjit.
The case is believed to be the first successful stem cell transplant from a donor with active COVID-19. Both Jio and his mother have since recovered from the virus.