Why this smiling girl wouldn't be alive without her cord blood

By Rebecca Lewis

Frances was cured by her own cord blood. Photo / Doug Sherring
Frances was cured by her own cord blood. Photo / Doug Sherring

Doctors once suggested her parents take her home to die, but a young Auckland girl's winning determination to fight off cancer - and the unique treatment that helped - is now being used to save other lives.

In 2007, Frances Everall, just four years of age, was not expected to survive an aggressive stage four neuroblastoma - a cancer of the nervous system - which was attacking her.

In fact, the cancer had progressed so far by the time it was discovered, doctors at Starship suggested Frances' family should take her home to die.

It could have been another tragic child cancer story, but Frances had a secret weapon - her frozen and stored umbilical cord blood.

Because her parents had made the unusual decision to bank Frances' cord blood when she was born in 2002, Frances, now seven, is here today.

Family spokeswoman Kristina Andersen said although Frances' family had no history of cancer, her parents decided to take advantage of the then-new procedure.

The decision to do so made Frances the first Kiwi kid to use her own umbilical cord blood to save her life.

"Early on, her family remembered they had banked the cord blood, and it was quite a new thing at that time. They never expected to need to use it, though," said Andersen.

"After her chemo they had the cord blood released to us in Starship and had it re-infused into her, after defrosting it and hanging it on an IV drip."

Cord blood can only be taken from a baby within the minutes following birth.

It contains stem cells and has been used to successfully strengthen immune systems after cancer treatments, plus regenerate brain tissue and other cells after injuries.

For Frances, her cord blood was injected back into her to boost her immune system after six rounds of chemotherapy, eight hours of surgery to remove a 13cm cancerous tumour and a bone marrow transplant.

It took just a matter of days for Frances to feel better - the colour came back into her cheeks, and she started to smile again.

She went from being on the brink of death to being discharged from hospital in three weeks.

"It's like a pot plant that is left to wither, but then you remember to water it and you see it come to life again. She really turned a corner," said Andersen. "Her family never expected to see this day."

Her mother, Janine Everall, has written the book Saving Frances - Beating Cancer with Courage & Cord Blood about her youngest child's encounter with cancer, and the importance of banking your baby's cord blood.

The book documents the family's journey alongside Frances, who they thought might simply have an infection when she first became sick.

"It was things like she got tired on family tramps very easily and she was putting herself to bed at four years old, without being told," said Andersen.

"Then her legs started to hurt, she would vomit unexpectedly and she had diarrhoea."

Despite the turmoil, Frances has turned a very important corner - Friday marked the third anniversary of her freedom from cancer.

Her family waited before going public with Frances' story to make sure she really was on the mend.

"Frances is one of the very few who have survived this cancer from stage four," said Andersen.

"It's also a message of hope against overwhelming odds, and coming through it out the other side."

Saving Frances - Beating Cancer with Courage & Cord Blood is available for $24.99 with all proceeds going to the not-for-profit NZ Cord Blood Foundation. Frances' story is also on YouTube.

For more information on cord blood go to www.cordbank.co.nz.

Frances' story

November 25, 2002: Frances is born, her cord blood collected and stored at CordBank in Auckland.

November 25, 2006: Frances turns 4.

February 15, 2007: Frances becomes unable to walk and has a constant high temperature. She is referred to Starship.

March 12, 2007: Frances is diagnosed with stage four neuroblastoma. Doctors suggest she should be taken home to die.

March 16 to August, 2007: Treatment starts. She has six cycles of chemotherapy and undergoes eight hours of surgery to remove a massive tumour.

September 17, 2007: Frances' cord blood is reinfused at Starship.

October 20, 2007: Frances is released from hospital with her immune system working and her white blood cells back in action.

June 1, 2008: Frances is officially declared to be in remission.

- Herald on Sunday

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