Mary and her family, in the midst of another two dozen families, met with President George Bush before he signed two bills and vetoed another connected to stem cell research.
During a 15 second photo op, Mary tried to tell the story of her 3-year-old son. Ryan who suffers from mild cerebral palsy, she told the president, was the first child in the nation to be injected with stem cells from her own umbilical cord blood.
Her son received the infusion and immediately showed significant signs of improvement. Since October, the Batavia mother has tried to spread the story of her son to the masses, and now she had the chance to tell President Bush.
“I said, ‘My son is symptom-free now,’ and he just was floored. He just was speechless,” Mary said. “His mouth went open and he said, ‘What? Really?'”
Bush was quite interested in what Mary had to say, judging by the way he tried to follow her before he was pulled back by his staff, Mary stated.
A year prior to their child’s birth, Mary and her husband Steve decided to bank her cord blood and save Ryan’s umbilical cord after learning the significance of stem cells. One of Mary’s family members had died of leukemia because they were unable to find a compatible match of bone marrow, another source of stem cells.
Stem cells derived from cord blood (a rich source for stem cells), have revealed that they can differentiate into other varieties of cells in the body. Cord blood, used for many years as a cancer treatment was used in unique circumstances. Ryan’s case was the first where the stem cells were being used to treat a neurological disorder such as cerebral palsy.
Since there is no way to track if the stem cells are in fact the cause of health improvements, physicians and researchers are tentative to endorse the procedure says Mary. She finally went to an agreeing physician at Duke University in North Carolina after months of probing and rejection for the treatment from other clinics and doctors.
“Now he talks fine, he has no feeding issues, he has all his mobility back. There’s no need for occupational or speech therapy — he’s signed up for swim class,” she said.
Ryan no longer has the disorder according to evaluations by the Easter Seals and neurologists, Mary said.
“I’m grateful every single day. He isn’t even aware of what he was missing and what he’s gotten back. It’s so cool he’s got all these options and abilities in life now,” his mother said.
Anxious to get the word out, she has called legislators and “raised some eyebrows,” landing her an invitation to speak at a press conference about stem cell research in Washington, D.C., last month. Mary met with several senators, and Ryan’s story was brought up on the Senate floor by both Senators Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan.
In her pursuit to accomplish her goal of informing families around the nation about the magnitude of cord blood, she looked at her meeting with the president as the first step in her journey.
“For my family, they were awestruck. For me, it was, ‘This is my chance, this is my 15 seconds to get the message out for these families and these kids,'” she said. “I was on a mission.”
Upon returning Batavia, Mary plans to work on launching her foundation — www.neurocordblood.org — which will supply information about cord blood banking.
“The abilities you can have with this are just astounding,” she said. “It’s going to help so many kids.”