U.S. Mom Finds Cells to Help Ailing Child

Associated Press Writer
November 17, 2003

Twice in one year, an American woman journeyed across the ocean on the most
urgent of missions: seeking rare cells for the bone-marrow transplant that
could save her adopted Chinese daughter's life. As each day passed, success
seemed less likely.

So when an apparent match was found, it made sense that Linda Wells had to see
the cells for herself - and hug the people responsible for finding them.

After a two-hour car ride from the Chinese capital, Wells found herself Sunday
peering through a microscope at a laboratory in the port city of Tianjin. It
was only then that she allowed herself to hope that Kailee, 6, ill for nearly
two years, might finally get the help she needs to live.

"Today was the best day we've had since Kailee got sick," Wells, of
Albuquerque, N.M., told The Associated Press. "I was very happy, of course,
when they told me two days ago that they thought there was a perfect match. But
I was still very cautious."

Now, most doubts have been resolved. "It's the first day that I feel that we
really can be positive and have great hope," she said.

Kailee Wells has severe aplastic anemia, which prevents her bone marrow from
producing new blood cells. She is too ill to attend school regularly, and her
mother, a lawyer, has had to stop working to care for Kailee full-time. Treated
with chemotherapy, her illness shows little sign of remission.

Wells had come to China looking for Kailee's biological family, who would be
most likely to provide suitable cells. The cells at Tianjin's Union Stem Cell
and Gene Engineering Ltd. from a local 1-year-old girl might well fit the bill,
though the girl isn't related to Kailee.

"It would have been possible for Kailee to have a match from a non-Asian,"
Wells said in a telephone interview. "It's just the randomness of statistics,
and it just happened that this baby from these two parents had the same DNA
typing as Kailee."

Kailee is from the southern province of Hunan, while Tianjin is in the
northeast, about 120 miles east of Beijing.

As an infant, she was found abandoned on the steps of a training institute for
teachers in the Hunanese city of Changde. Given the name "Changban," or "never
alone," she spent a year in an orphanage before being adopted by the Wells
family. She fell ill just after turning 5.

Her doctors in the United States reviewed 8 million people on global donor
databases without finding a match.

Kailee's biological family still hasn't been located. But as Wells traveled
around Hunan, her story was reported by Chinese media and attracted the
attention of the researchers in Tianjin.

Cells from the Tianjin girl's umbilical cord not only match Kailee's, but
doctors in Tianjin say there are enough cells in the cord for a transplant

American doctors refuse to accept marrow donations from people younger than 18
who aren't living under the same roof as the recipient, so the donated cells
are from the umbilical cord and not the marrow itself.

Wells first traveled to China in February to try to find her daughter's birth
mother. "This match would've been here when I came the first time - already in
the cord bank," Wells said. "But China is just gearing up and getting the
details online."

Kailee's condition has been kept stable with blood transfusions, a catheter in
her chest and a strict regiment of medicines, though doctors warn she is
susceptible to dangerous infections.

Wells is awaiting more technical details on the cord so that it can be
transported to the United States. And she's traveling the world to promote
umbilical cord donations.

"For babies born now, it's very important for people to know - young mothers
and fathers - that they can have the cord donated to these cord banks," Wells

Back in New Mexico, Kailee's adoptive father, too, is rejoicing at the news.

"For these last 22 months, we've been living in fear that Kailee would take a
turn for the worse and there would be nothing we could do about it," Owen Wells
told Albuquerque television station KOAT.

"Now we have something we can use and save our little girl. We are just about
ready to start jumping up and down and rejoicing."

A good friend will come and bail you out of jail . . . but, a true friend will
be sitting next to you saying, "**** . . . that was fun!"