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Third Ventura County Star Article on Hailey


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Cason Point: Nurturing baby back to health a labor of love

By Colleen Cason
Sunday, May 27, 2007


James Glover II / Star file photo 11-month-old Hailey Joy Kent plays with some toys at her home in Simi Valley. Her family is pinning its hopes on a stem cell transplant this week.

If farming were only about picking that ripe, robust tomato on a dewy morn, we'd all trade our desktops for tractors and be elbow deep in mulch.

But before the harvest comes the serial ordeals of destroying noxious weeds, ridding the soil of rocks, plowing, protecting seed from predators, watering, feeding and then, perhaps the toughest thing of all, the watching.

It's hard work. But for those who even in the sweaty, dirty thick of it can see their way to the day the tomato is theirs for the picking, it's something they bear as well as they can.

At Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, Maria Kent is a constant gardener.

She watches over her infant daughter, Hailey Joy, in a tiny room where every molecule of air is filtered to remove bacteria, fungus and viruses.

As the 10-month-old goes about the full-time business of being a baby, her immune system is being erased by four infusions a day of chemotherapy.

She watches "Baby Einstein" on a monitor above her crib draped in sterile plastic. She lets loose little raspberry sounds and then twists in her mother's arms so she can look at the world upside down.

Life turned upside down for the Kent family of Simi Valley when Hailey was only 3 months old.

She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a rapacious cancer of the white blood cells. The malignant cells grow quickly and soon crowd out the normal red and white blood cells as well as the platelets the body needs to thrive.

The only hope for Hailey is a bone-marrow transplant. This transplant, or graft as the medical people call it, will come from stem cells taken from the blood of an umbilical cord.

As it turns out Hailey's twin brother, Ryan, who is healthy, is not a good match for the transplant.

But Hailey's cancer is so aggressive the doctors have decided to progress with a less than perfect match from an anonymous donor.

Maria is a stoic woman. And when we spoke at the hospital on Thursday, a tired one.

In the months since Hailey was diagnosed, Maria and her husband, Rick, have heard every worst-case scenario.

"The doctors give you a list of 10 horrible things that can happen. But it doesn't mean that any of them will or if one does that it will be more than just mild," she said.

Now, she fears most of all that Hailey's body will reject the donated stem cells.

Maria knows her daughter's chances are 50-50. But, she says, the family can't dwell on that. They have to stay the only course they believe could save Hailey's life.

If everything goes as planned, the transplant will happen on Wednesday.

It's anti-climatic, really. Hailey will simply be hooked up to an IV and the stem cells will be infused into her body.

In all, said Dr. Neena Kapoor, it will last 20 minutes.

It is like putting seeds in the soil, Kapoor explains in her soft, firm voice. But first, all the weeds, or the cancer, must be removed. And that is why Hailey must be rid of her immune system.

Then, the soil must be nourished, said Kapoor, who heads the hospital's transplant center. The baby will receive good nutrition and antibiotics and antifungals to help the cells grow.

She also will be monitored to make sure the new cells grow at a safe, healthy rate.

Maria knows one thing for sure as her baby daughter squirms in her arms.

"Hailey is going to get weaker and sicker."

The pre-transplant chemotherapy destroys all the fast-growing cells in her body, including those in her stomach.

Through all of that, though, Maria looks to the day when Hailey is as healthy as her brother. When she can run, and climb and jump and roughhouse.

Then, it will be harvest time, a harvest the family has earned through faith and hard work.