At only four years old, Henrique is the first person in Portugal to receive an infusion of his own cord blood stem cells, in what’s known as an autologous cord blood transplant. The stem cells were used to successfully put Henrique in remission from severe aplastic anaemia.
Henrique’s mother made the lucky decision to store her youngest son’s cord blood stem cells from the umbilical cord after birth, after hearing about the benefits of family cord blood banking:
Fourteen years ago, when I was pregnant with Guilherme, a family member told us about stem cell cryopreservation…People were starting to talk about this option in Portugal, but we found the idea interesting mainly because science is evolving so quickly…It was a different health insurance.
When Henrique was born 9 years later, we decided to save the cells again, not only for the sake of equality between our children, but also because we continue to believe that the future of some areas of medicine can pass through stem cells…nothing made us predict Henrique´s disease.
When the young boy was first diagnosed with aplastic anaemia, he was quickly transferred to Lisbon Instituto Português de Oncologia (IPO), where he started a course of chemotherapy. His cord blood sample was ready and waiting to be infused soon after in an autologous stem cell transplant.
Aplastic anaemia is a rare and life-threatening immunodeficiency disease caused by bone marrow’s failure to produce enough blood cells. This results in a number of anaemia symptoms, alongside bleeding and susceptibility to infections. The only way to treat it in the long-term is to replenish the patient’s immune system with a stem cell transplant.
Henrique’s autologous stem cell transplant took place at IPO on 5th April this year. When doctors noticed rapid recovery of his blood cells and immune function, they discharged him within a month of the transplant.
While his immune system rebuilds itself Henrique still wears a small mask in public to protect him from germs, but otherwise leads the normal, happy life of a toddler with his family.