Michael Sancilio, a 4-year-old leukemia victim, was to leave the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center with his parents today, and doctors say there is a chance that he'll recover from the disease.
In August, Michael was the recipient of umbilical cord blood collected when his sister was born. Dr. John Wagner, Michael's physician, said the procedure appears to have the helped the youngster, who has a rare and deadly form of childhood leukemia.
"He has made a very unremarkable course after the transplant," Dr. John Wagner, the boy's physician, said today. "The only thing during the period is that he didn't want to take his medicine. Otherwise, he may have been discharged sooner. He had virtually no complications" from the operation.
Michael, wearing an oversized Redskin baseball cap and a tiny surgical mask, joked with his mother and seemed to be having a good time when the news of his discharge from the hospital was announced.
"He a real tough trooper," said Anthony Sancilio, the boy's father. "He still has a long way to go, but at this point we're pretty confident. The first half-hour [of the operation] was the scary part."
Michael, of Virginia Beach, Va., is believed to be the first leukemia patient treated with the procedure, known as a cord-blood transplant. Cord-blood transplants have been successfully performed three times for other diseases -- twice in France and once in Cleveland, Wagner said.
During the operation, which is similar to a bone-marrow transplant, Michael was given high doses of drug therapy to destroy his cancerous bone marrow. He was then given blood taken at birth from his sister's umbilical cord and placenta.
"Two years from now we'll know if has recovered fully," Wagner said. "We believe he will remain in remission forever."
Michael will remain in the Baltimore area for about 50 days so Hopkins' doctors can monitor his progress and thwart any complications. Doctors said he'll also have to wear the surgical mask for about four or five months because viral infections are frequent after such operations.
Anthony Sancilio said one of the toughest parts of the ordeal has been having his family separated. The family's two other children are at home in Virginia Beach.
"We can't wait until Christmas when we're all back together again," he said.