Boy in bubble cured of life-threatening disease

Published: June 4, 2008 | 7134th good news item since 2003

A seven-year-old boy kept in a “bubble” for two months has become the first person in Britain to be cured of a rare life-threatening disease with a bone marrow transplant.

Rhys Harris was kept in isolation in the airtight chamber while his immune system was destroyed by chemotherapy and replaced by being given new bone marrow.

During eight weeks of treatment, his parents had to wear specially sterilised gowns and, although they could dress and cuddle their son, they were not allowed to kiss him.

Rhys was initially diagnosed with a mycobacterial infection – a “cousin” of tuberculosis – which is rare.

When doctors investigated further, they discovered that he had an underlying immune deficiency disease called Nemo, Nuclear Factor Kappa B Essential Modulator, which effectively stopped his white cells working properly.

Less than 12 people in the UK currently have the condition.

Rhys, from Newbridge in South Wales, was transferred from care in Cardiff to Newcastle General Hospital, one of two units specialising in treating such diseases.

The transplant took place last October and this week his parents Kevin, 44, and Dawn, 39, were told the procedure had been successful.

Rhys, who was left deaf after suffering meningitis as a baby, now has a “normal” immune system and is no more at risk from disease and infection than anyone else.

Mr Harris said: “We knew it was a slim chance but we had to take it. The flipside of the coin just wasn’t worth thinking about.

“Rhys just went through hell and back and back to hell again – it was a really tough time for all of us. He is really tough and resilient. He is a normal seven year old boy apart from this who loves rugby and adores his brother.”

Dr Mario Abinun, consultant paediatric immunologist at Newcastle General Hospital, said 25 similar transplants were carried out each year.

“This is the first time this operation has been carried out on a child with Nemo in the UK. When Rhys came in he was a very sick boy but now he is so much better.

“All the staff at the hospital are happy and glad to see the little boy getting better and enjoying the normal things boys should be doing – running around and being mischievous.”

Published in Kids & Teens
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