A six-year-old girl and her baby brother are closer than ever after she saved his life by becoming his bone marrow donor.
Sophia Ashby was a 100% match for her baby brother Caleb, who needed an urgent bone marrow transplant after a shortage of infection-fighting blood cells left him in danger of being killed by a common cold.
The little girl bravely asked her worried parents to let her be a donor by declaring: “If I give Caleb my bones he will live.”
Sophia had bone marrow extracted from her hip, before it was donated to Caleb, just a few beds away.
Parents Kelsey Stynes, 28, and Lee Ashby, 31, had to wait for two weeks to find out whether Caleb’s body had accepted his sister’s bone marrow.
Four weeks on, the four-month-old is set to make a full recovery, but protective Sophia has refused to leave his side. She has recovered from her op, but is attending the hospital school after being given special permission to keep a close eye on him until he goes home in six to eight weeks.
Mum Kelsey, a beautician from Barwell, Leicestershire, said: “It makes me so emotional just thinking about it. I am completely overwhelmed by it all. She just amazes me. She has been fantastic for the whole way through this.
“She hasn’t stopped smiling and she knows she has done a good thing but I’m not sure if she knows how amazing she is.
“If she didn’t want to go ahead with it then we wouldn’t have Caleb here with us now. She saved Caleb’s life.”
Kelsey, who has two other sons, Zachary, one, and Tyler, eight, found out Caleb was going to be born with a heart defect when she was 22 weeks pregnant.
He had truncus arteriosus – only one large blood vessel leading from his heart instead of two – and a hole in his heart, when he was born in December 2018.
At just two-weeks-old Caleb underwent a major eight-hour operation, in January, to insert a plastic stent into his heart to do the job of the blood vessel he was born without. He spent five days in intensive care and doctors soon realised the newborn’s wound was not healing.
Further tests revealed he had “no white bloods at all” meaning he was at serious risk of infection. Doctors warned he could be killed by a common cold and his body was too weak to properly recover from the heart surgery. They discovered he had bone marrow failure – when the soft centre of the bones fails to produce enough healthy blood cells to keep up with the body’s needs.
Kelsey says doctors said if they had known about Caleb’s blood condition, they wouldn’t have performed the heart surgery. The family were told the only option to save his life was a bone marrow transplant to give him a new immune system.
“It was very touch and go at that point,” Kelsey said. “We thought we had been through the worst after his operation. That was a very scary time for us. We had to trust the surgeons with our baby.”
Kelsey, Lee, Sophia and Zachery were tested as potential matches on 18 February. Zachery was ruled out but doctors knew even before the results came back that, as Caleb’s parents, Kelsey and Lee’s bone marrow would at least be a 50% match.
Because of the urgency and severity of Caleb’s condition, doctors had prepared a blood transfusion using Lee’s partial match before the results came back on 27 February.
A partial match transfusion would have a lesser chance of success and would require Lee’s bloods to be manipulated in a lab prior to the op. The major risk would be that the transfusion would fail and Caleb’s body would reject his dad’s bone marrow – placing his life on the line once again.
But on the same day Lee was preparing to undergo the transfusion, tests revealed Sophia was a 100% match – handing her baby brother a vital lifeline.
Kelsey said: “I had mixed emotions. Sophia was so willing but I didn’t want to put her through it if she didn’t want to. But she said ‘I want to help’. She said ‘if I give Caleb my bone he will live’.”
She had the option to opt out – but courageously stuck to her word and went ahead with the blood marrow donation on 5 March.
During her procedure, she was put under general anaesthetic before stem cells were removed from the bone marrow in her hip bone, ready to transfuse into her baby brother. Then, having endured a week of chemotherapy to prepare his blood for a transfusion, Caleb underwent his second life saving operation on 6 March.
Had he not had the life-saving op, Kelsey says her baby “probably wouldn’t be here today”.
“He’s recovering well and it’s all about the numbers now. We can’t leave hospital until his blood is stable,” she said. He is expected to be there for another eight weeks.
“He will have to be kept a very close eye on for the rest of his life and will be in and out of hospital for check ups for the next year.”