Jenson Wright, who was first diagnosed with lymphoma in November 2013 when he was four years old, is cancer-free after undergoing a pioneering stem cell transplant that used a donated umbilical cord.
Now nine, Jenson had won the battle against the deadly disease after several rounds of chemotherapy but the cancer returned. Doctors discovered that he was battling acute myeloid leukemia and that the cancer had come back more aggressively, spreading to 70% of the boy’s body.
Jenson, who is from Penketh, England, underwent two more rounds of chemotherapy, but the treatment wasn’t successful. Doctors were left with only one option – to perform a life-saving stem cell transplant using an umbilical cord from Texas which had been preserved in a freezer.
After the operation in December 2016, doctors were astonished to discover that Jenson had responded to the treatment in just five days. Now, two years after the transplant, the boy has been completely cured of cancer. Carolyn, his mother, says “It came completely out the blue, it was a complete shock. It was quite emotional when they said it because you never expect to hear those words when you’ve been going through so much.”
“Jenson took it in his stride – he was quite blasé about it really. I don’t think the severity of the illness he had has ever really hit him. We’re quite fortunate because he was so young at the time he was diagnosed, so he didn’t really understand it like an adult would,” she adds. “It’s always in the back of your mind, wondering what the tests they’re doing are going to find. That’s why it was such a shock when they said he was cured, and that they didn’t want to see him again – it’s a bit surreal really. He can just be like any other child again now.”
Carolyn discovered Jenson’s cancer after noticing swelling on the side of his face in the rearview mirror while driving. After taking a closer look, she found that the swelling was in fact a hard lump. She took him directly to the hospital, where he underwent several tests and X-rays. Doctors ultimately decided to perform urgent biopsy.
When the results came back, he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer. Jenson began treatment immediately and underwent nine months of intensive chemotherapy. He lost his hair, experienced swelling in his face and body, was continually hungry, and had angry mood swings.
After the stem cell treatment cured his cancer, however, Jenson has been going “from strength to strength.”
“The early stages of the treatment were quite hard to comprehend, and quite difficult for us emotionally,” Carolyn says. “Without the transplant we would be in a completely different situation – that saved him.”
A 2013 study published in the scientific journal Blood says, “Umbilical cord blood is an alternative … stem cell source for patients with hematologic diseases who can be cured by allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation.
“Initially, umbilical cord blood transplantation was limited to children, given the low cell dose infused. Both related and unrelated cord blood transplants have been performed with high rates of success for a variety of hematologic disorders and … diseases in the pediatric setting.”
Another article from Lancaster University says that pregnant women should discuss donating umbilical cords with a medical professional in order to give other children a chance. “We will never get to find out who the donor was, but by donating it, they’ve given life to somebody else,” Carolyn says. “In the last two years, we’ve managed to get our lives back to some normality.”
Jenson, his dad, mom, and 18-year-old older brother recently celebrated the young boy’s recovery with a family dinner.
“He’s actually got different DNA now because of the stem cell transplant – he’s basically been reborn again,” Carolyn says. “Now it’s just a case of getting our heads around the fact that this part of our lives is over, and hopefully we won’t have to revisit it again. We can just enjoy our future.”