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Simi tot goes home after stem cell transplant

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Patient of leukemia

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James Glover II / Star staff Hailey Joy Kent's stem cell transplant May 30 was meant to replace diseased blood cells with healthy ones.

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James Glover II / Star staff Ryan Kent, 15 months, walks, but his ailing twin sister, Hailey Joy Kent, right, only crawls. She is five inches shorter and eight pounds lighter than her brother.

Only 15 months old, Hailey Joy Kent can't walk but has still taken a step in her fight against a rare form of leukemia by returning home from a Los Angeles hospital.

The little girl had been in isolation at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles since a high-risk stem cell transplant May 30 designed to replace diseased blood cells with healthy ones. Her path to recovery is still daunting. Chances of a relapse are high. But doctors said she was stable enough to be sent home to Simi Valley on Sept. 4.

"It's really good news, but it's nowhere near over," said Hailey's mother, Maria Kent.

Hailey received a diagnosis about a year ago of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The fatal disease causes malignant white blood cells to grow uncontrollably and crowd out healthy blood cells. She was given a nearly lethal course of chemotherapy aimed at wiping out the diseased cells. Stem cells from a donor's umbilical cord were transplanted into her body to act like seeds and grow healthy blood cells.

Now about 94 percent of the blood cells in Hailey's body can be linked to the transplant. Her parents worry about the 6 percent that can be traced to Hailey's blood before the transplant. Though there are no signs of the leukemia, they worry it could still be there.

Doctors are hopeful the cells from the transplant will continue to grow and fight any remnants of the disease. But Dr. Ami Shah, associate medical director of the transplant program at Childrens Hospital, said the hyper-aggressive leukemia can come back.

"Right now, we say we're at a 30 to 40 percent chance of long-term survival," she said, defining long term as beyond five years.

The numbers are why Maria and Rick Kent take every day as it comes.

"I was kind of expecting the odds to be in her favor. They're just numbers," Maria Kent said. "We just try not to worry about it and have faith that she'll be OK, that she'll live a life like everyone else and grow old. Hopefully she'll never relapse. If she does, the only choice is another transplant."

Shah said Hailey is growing stronger and is beginning to eat. She's adjusting to being reunited with her twin brother, Ryan. He's now 5 inches taller than Hailey and eight pounds heavier.

"They're both doing better now," Maria Kent said. "She was scared to leave that (hospital) room. He didn't understand why he had to share."

Hailey, who has blue eyes and eight teeth, crawls and pulls herself up to a standing position. She smiles often.

"I just couldn't imagine going through anything that she does and still smile afterwards," said her father, Rick Kent. "She's one of those kindred souls. She's a real happy little girl."

Her parents try not to focus on what-ifs. "I'm OK. I'm tired," Maria Kent said, "but it's good to have her home, and I'm feeling really blessed and have faith that she'll be OK."

Give blood, platelets

Hailey Joy Kent still needs type O negative blood for transfusions. She also needs platelets in which blood type doesn't matter. To find out about helping, contact Childrens Hospital Los Angeles at 323-361-2441.