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Category Archives: Indiana Stem Cells
IU School of Medicine researchers discover new potential for functional recovery after spinal cord injury – Spinal News International
Posted: July 21, 2021 at 2:47 am
Wei Wu and Xiao-Ming Xu (Credit: IU School of Medicine)
Researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine (Indianapolis, USA) have announced the successful reprogramming of a glial cell type in the central nervous system into new neurons in order to promote recovery after spinal cord injuryrevealing an untapped potential to leverage the cell for regenerative medicine.
This is the first time that scientists have reported modifying a NG2 gliaa type of supporting cell in the central nervous systeminto functional neurons after spinal cord injury, saidWei Wu, research associate in neurological surgery at IU School of Medicine and co-first author of the paper, which was published in the Cell Stem Cell journal.
Wu andXiao-Ming Xu, the Mari Hulman George professor of Neuroscience Research at IU School of Medicine, worked on the study with a team of scientists from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
Spinal cord injuries affect hundreds of thousands of people in the United States, with thousands more diagnosed each year. Neurons in the spinal cord dont regenerate after injury, which typically causes a person to experience permanent physical and neurological ailments.
Unfortunately, effective treatments for significant recovery remain to be developed, Xu said. We hope that this new discovery will be translated to a clinically relevant repair strategy that benefits those who suffer from a spinal cord injury.
When the spinal cord is injured, glial cells, of which there are three typesastrocyte, ependymal and NG2respond to form glial scar tissue.
Wu added: Only NG2 glial cells were found to exhibit neurogenic potential in the spinal cord following injury in adult mice, but they failed to generate mature neurons. Interestingly, by elevating the critical transcription factor SOX2, the glia-to-neuron conversion is successfully achieved and accompanied with a reduced glial scar formation and increased functional recovery following spinal cord injury.
The researchers reprogrammed the NG2 cells from the mouse model using elevated levels of SOX2a transcription factor found inside the cell thats essential for neurogenesisto neurons. This conversion has two purposes, Xu said: to generate neurons to replace those lost due to a spinal cord injury and reduce the size of the glial scars in the lesion area of the damaged tissue.
This discovery, serves as an important target in the future for potential therapeutic treatments of spinal cord injury, adds Wu, who goes on to note that such a collaboration will be continued between the two laboratories to address neuronal remodelling and functional recovery after successful conversion of glial cells into functional neurons in future.
Posted: June 23, 2021 at 1:52 am
At the Indiana Stem Cell Treatment Center, we provide stem cell therapy care for people suffering from diseases that may be alleviated by access to adult stem cell based regenerative treatment. The Center utilizes a fat transfer surgical technology to isolate and implant the patients own stem cells from a small quantity of fat harvested by liposuction on the same day. Stem cell therapy patients are evaluated by a respective member of our multi-specialty expert panel of Board Certified physicians representing many medical fields. The Indiana Stem Cell Treatment Center emphasizes quality and is highly committed to clinical research and the advancement of regenerative medicine. When it comes to stem cell therapy centers we always put the patients needs first
Founded in 2010 for the investigational use of stem cells deployments for degenerative conditions, the source of the cells is actually stromal vascular fraction, which is a protein rich segment of processed adipose tissue. Stromal vascular fraction contains a mononuclear cell line (predominantly autologous mesenchymal stem cells), macrophage cells, endothelial cells, red blood cells, and important growth factors that turn on the stem cells and promote their activity. We have high numbers of viable cells and we are trying to learn which diseases respond best and which deployment methods are most effective. We are growing and continue to use our surgical methods to deploy SVF for various degenerative conditions. We employ a clinical research coordinator to protect our valuable data and our vision is to perfect our treatments and ultimately teach them to other physicians around the world.
Posted: at 1:52 am
Umbilical cord stem cells are a type of cell called Mesenchymal (MCS). MSCs have the ability to migrate and target specic tissues. This property called homing is an event that allows cells to migrate from a remote area in the body to nd a damaged organ or tissue in a specic site. This is the mechanism by which MSCs are infused intravenously and reach the aected areas of the body to perform its regenerative functions. MCS with Whartons Jelly is the most potent of stem cells.
The cord blood is processed in such a way that all blood components associated with rejection are removed. When these growth factors, proteins, regenerative cells, and stem cells are injected into a damaged joint, they go to work to repair the source of pain. IL-1ra (Interleukin-1 receptor antagonist) immediately begins reducing the damaging inflammatory components (Tumor necrosis factor-alpha, Interferon-gamma, ect.
Call our regenerative medicine team atIndiana Medical Center for Joint Restoration and Regenerative Medicinelocated in Bloomington for more information about stem cell therapy.Other than the umbilical cord, common sources of stem cells include bone marrow or fat harvested from the patients body. Depending on the health and age of the individual, these cells may be less potent than needed, and the extraction process more invasive.
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Stem Cell Therapy | Indiana Medical Center
Posted: December 17, 2020 at 7:56 am
The situation was dire. As the pandemic raged in March, some Covid-19 patients in Milan were going into septic shock, and their blood pressure was perilously low.
A California drug company wanted to ship emergency medication to those patients, but commercial flights to Italy had been drastically scaled back. So it called PCI Pharma Services, a Philadelphia company that specialises in packaging and shipping drugs around the world. It took nearly a week, but PCI secured permits and arranged for courier jets, drivers and trains to deliver the drugs to Milan.
That day when the drug arrived, six people were saved, said Salim Haffar, PCIs chief executive.
As countries prepare to distribute hundreds of millions of Covid-19 vaccines some of which require storage as cold as the South Pole in winter and meticulous handling the highly specialised operations of companies like PCI Pharma are in heavy demand. And Wall Street, which likes nothing better than a hot trade with the potential for big profits, is rushing to grab a piece of the action.
Investors were already snapping up shares of vaccine-makers like Moderna and Pfizer, whose vaccine, developed with BioNTech, was introduced in the United States on Monday and requires an exceptionally low storage temperature of minus 70 Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit). FedEx and UPS, whose shares have already risen this year as the pandemic forced millions to rely on online shopping, could benefit further from their roles in vaccine delivery.
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But in recent months, private equity firms and wealthy individual investors have also been seizing on smaller companies like PCI Pharma, whose cold-storage operations will play a crucial role in delivering Covid vaccines to the public.
Until recently, the temperature-controlled storage and shipping of pharmaceutical products, known as the cold chain, was a relatively sleepy corner of the health care industry. The technology to preserve animal-based cells and tissues by transporting them in cold conditions has been available since the 1950s, and certain breakthroughs in cancer research in the last decade increased demand for cold-chain transportation.
But the virus, and the temperature-sensitive vaccines that are poised to combat it, have brought new attention to the cold-chain delivery systems in the United States and beyond. Even Saturday Night Live featured a cooler full of vaccines during a recent episode.
The companies getting attention from Wall Street are notable for how niche their operations are. Many use an elaborate network of freezers and specialised trucks and aircraft to move temperature-sensitive materials such as blood, stem cells and tissue around the world without compromising their efficacy. Its a delicate process, because a product can go from vital to useless within minutes of being removed from cold storage.
Potential investors are constantly calling Stirling Ultracold, whose freezer equipment is powering UPS freezer farms in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Netherlands, where vaccines will be stored. Theres not a day that goes by that an inquiry doesnt come in, said Dusty Tenney, Stirlings chief executive, who is running his Athens, Ohio, production lines around the clock.
Demand for Stirlings freezer engines the core component of its upright, under-the-counter and portable freezers has soared, and the estimated waiting time for new orders is six to eight weeks, the company said. On December 8, after multiple prospective investors studied the companys financial metrics in a due diligence process, Stirling received a capital injection of an undisclosed amount that it plans to use to buy new equipment and expand production.
In October, Blackstone, the private equity giant, invested $275 million in Cryoport, a Nashville, Tennessee company that specializes in shipping sensitive medical materials at freezing temperatures. Investors have also been bullish on Ember, the beverage-heating company that has developed a refrigerated medical shipping box with built-in GPS and already counts two Jonas Brothers and Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant as shareholders.
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PCI Pharma recently changed ownership. The new investors, private-equity firm Kohlberg & Co. and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, sovereign-wealth fund Mubadala Investment Co., viewed the companys expertise in transporting pharmaceuticals globally during the pandemic as a potential benefit.
Cold-chain investors said they were drawn to the area well before the pandemic because of the boom in biologic drugs, which require blood, tissue and other vital materials to be transported at low temperatures. For now, though, the rush to develop and distribute Covid-19 vaccines has amped up investors enthusiasm.
In addition to Pfizer and Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and others are also developing vaccines that will require cold storage. Therefore, cold-chain infrastructure, which can be limited in rural or far-flung areas like southeastern Indiana and Hawaii, will be essential.
Shares of Cryoport, which ships biologic material at cryogenic temperatures a level of freezing, usually around minus 150 Celsius, at which cells and other living materials enter a quiescent state are up more than 180% this year. Already, the company has transported temperature-sensitive materials involved in 26 different Covid vaccines and treatments and has a long-term partnership with McKesson, a distributor of medical supplies that has been tapped by the US government to manage domestic vaccine distribution.
Jerrell Shelton, Cryoports chief executive, said he expected the company to be involved in the global distribution of the vaccine, but the details had not yet been determined. This is a massive, massive effort, and its going to strain the temperature-control supply chain throughout the world, he said.
Ram M. Jagannath, a senior managing director at Blackstone who oversees the firms investment in Cryoport, said that the cell and gene-based therapies market in which the company operates is likely to grow at an annualised rate of 50% for the next five years. The current pandemic has only served to increase interest and investment in these potentially lifesaving therapies, Jagannath said. We invested in this for the long run.
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Then there are companies like Ember, which is hoping to parlay its temperature-control technology currently used in a smart mug that keeps beverages at the users preferred drinking temperature into a shipping container for the Covid vaccine. Several years ago, Ember built a portable refrigerator for Mayo Clinic physicians trying to deliver vaccines to places where dry ice and cooling facilities were scarce.
We tested it, and we got huge positive feedback, said Clay Alexander, Embers chief executive.
That led to the creation of Embers cold box, which can ship medical products at standard refrigeration temperatures and generate its own electronic return labels on arrival a product it plans to take wider next year through a commercial partnership it signed recently. Investors in Ember are hoping that the technology will also come in handy as delivery of Covid vaccines becomes more widespread.
Much of the cold-chain infrastructure for pharmaceuticals was already in place in 2014, when veteran health care investor Matthew J. Jennings attended a gathering of the cold-chain industrys trade association in Chicago.
I was surprised at the size of the industry and the number of exhibitors searching for growth, said Jennings, an operating partner at Kohlberg who is now chairman of PCI Pharma. Growth, he said, has accelerated since then, and will likely benefit again as a result of Covid.
On November 20, a shipment of a Covid vaccine PCI Pharmas Haffar wouldnt say which one arrived at the companys headquarters as part of a dry run, escorted by armed US marshals.
The vials containing the vaccine were stored in a PCI refrigerator set between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius and monitored constantly. Once ready for packaging, the vials were removed from storage and brought to a machine where they were labelled and boxed before being returned to cold storage.
Haffar gave a tour recently of the companys Philadelphia building. Inside a walk-in cooler and wearing a long-sleeved gown and hairnet, he motioned to the surrounding shelves. They contained rows and rows of products that PCI packages, including drugs that treat Crohns disease and syringes that inject medicines directly into the eye.
The cold chain has been around forever, he said. The vaccine just made the sheer size of it bigger.
Posted: November 10, 2020 at 7:55 am
MUSC Hollings Cancer Center researchers identified that blocking an alternative energy pathway for T-cells after hematopoietic stem cell transplant helps reduce graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) in an animal model of leukemia.
Xue-Zhong Yu, M.D., who also is associate director of Basic Science at Hollings, and collaborators at the Indiana University School of Medicine discovered that donor T-cells must have the key enzyme lysosomal acid lipase in order to induce GVHD.
The Yu laboratory focuses on understanding the biological balance between GVHD and graft-versus-leukemia effect. Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation is used as a treatment option for some leukemia patients. T-cells in stem cell grafts from a donor are given to a leukemia patient in order to kill the cancer and reboot the patient's immune system. GVHD is a big clinical challenge because the donor T-cells, which come from the bone marrow, can attack the patient's organs. Anywhere from 30% to 70% of patients develop acute GVHD after allogeneic bone marrow transplant and 15% die.
"When we deal with hematopoietic cell transplant, it is an important balance - blocking GVHD while still allowing T-cells to do their job and control the cancer," Yu said.
Each cell in our body has its own metabolic process. Cells convert the food that is eaten into energy in order to perform their intended functions. However, cellular metabolism is often altered in various diseases. Yu researches T-cell metabolism in order to understand the balance between graft-versus-host and graft-versus-leukemia responses.
Most cells in our body require oxygen to create energy efficiently. However, this research focused on lipid, or fat, metabolism. T-cells have special metabolic processes: Sometimes they multiply so rapidly that they need an extra source of energy from free fatty acids.
Lysosomal acid lipase is an enzyme that breaks the large lipids and cholesterol into individual free fatty acid building blocks. If that enzyme is missing, there are not enough free fatty acids for energy production. This changes the T-cell metabolism, which in turn changes T-cell function.
Clinically, broad spectrum immunosuppression drugs (steroids and rapamycin) are still used as the first line of care in patients with severe GVHD. However, Yu and collaborators hypothesized that changing T-cell metabolism could reduce GVHD after hematopoietic stem cell transplantation.
"We know that the gut is the primary organ affected by GVHD. Since the gut has less oxygen, the T-cells rely on free fatty acids and must use lysosomal acid lipase. We thought if we could remove or block the activity of that, we could reduce GVHD in the gut."
The Yu Laboratory collaborated with the Indiana University School of Medicine and used a lysosomal acid lipase-deficient mouse model. T-cells lacking lysosomal acid lipase were given to mice with leukemia. As a control, T-cells with lysosomal acid lipase from normal mice were given to another group of leukemia mice. Strikingly, the mice that received the T-cells without lysosomal acid lipase did not get severe GVHD. Additionally, the T-cells from the donor lysosomal acid lipase-deficient bone marrow still killed the leukemia cells.
To increase the clinical translational potential of the work, orlistat, the FDA-approved lysosomal acid lipase inhibitor was also tested in the leukemia model. Mice with leukemia were treated with orlistat every other day after receiving bone marrow from normal mouse donors. Similar to the first experiment with the lysosomal acid lipase-deficient bone marrow, blocking the activity of lysosomal acid lipase with orlistat greatly reduced GVHD while the graft-versus-leukemia effect was preserved.
Additionally, the researchers discovered that inhibiting the lysosomal acid lipase enzyme with orlistat reduced the number of pathogenic T-cells and increased the number of regulatory T-cells. The pathogenic T-cells are the ones that cause GVHD. Regulatory T-cells are one of the "braking mechanisms" of the immune system. They help to reduce the activity of the pathogenic T-cells and prevent GVHD damage.
Therefore, blocking lysosomal acid lipase activity with orlistat preferentially stopped the donor T-cells from damaging the gut but allowed the T-cells to function during circulation and kill the leukemia cells.
The researchers' future plan is to look deeper at the biological mechanisms. For example, it is not clear how the loss or inhibition of lysosomal acid lipase affects the other metabolites in T-cells. To move this finding closer to the clinic, Yu explained that human cells can be used in a special mouse model that recreates the human immune environment.
"Looking at the immune cells in the gut was technically challenging. However, the results were exciting because our hypothesis was validated. These results encourage us to continue studying this in order to provide better treatment options to patients."
Notre Dame Adjusts to the COVID-19 Pandemic | Notre Dame Magazine | University of Notre Dame – ND Newswire
Posted: July 7, 2020 at 2:47 pm
Theology professor John Cavadini records one of his classes in a vacant DeBartolo Hall. Photo by Matt Cashore 94
Michael Chamberlain 20 carried all his belongings out of ONeill Hall on March 16 and packed them into his car. A California resident, the Notre Dame senior planned to drive to Houston and stay with his brother for the near future.
I was ready to leave, but I wasnt ready to leave this soon, Chamberlain said, noting that the final months of senior year are a memorable time, but the Class of 2020 would be forced to forego many traditional senior rituals.
Spring 2020 was a semester unlike any other in Notre Dames history. Students left for spring break expecting to return in a week for the second half of the semester and the promise of spring weather and campus activities. Suddenly, before they knew it, daily life was upended.
In February, as the coronavirus spread through Italy, the University halted its study programs in Rome and flew students home to the United States. In early March, the University recalled all students studying abroad and suspended its international programs until further notice. The change impacted 483 students who had been overseas.
Notre Dame announced March 11 that all in-person classes were suspended, joining colleges across the country that did the same. The University extended spring break an additional week, then resumed classes entirely via online instruction for the rest of the semester.
A modern pandemic is uncharted territory for Notre Dame and other universities. Administrators have no playbook for how to proceed.
Traditional lecture and laboratory courses transformed into online courses using Zoom video conferencing. Many undergraduates returned to their childhood bedrooms, taking classes online, sharing time and space with their parents and siblings, and keeping in virtual touch with Notre Dame friends.
Faculty members accustomed to teaching in lecture halls got quick training on how to transition to online instruction. In a concession to the unusual circumstances, undergraduates were given the option after seeing their grade for each course for the spring semester of choosing either to receive the letter grade or take a pass/no credit for that course.
One would have to go back to World War II, when most of the campus was transformed into a U.S. Navy training facility, to find such a major disturbance to University routine. Between 1942 and 1946, when the undergraduate population was reduced to a few hundred students, some 11,925 men completed their officer training at Notre Dame before entering military service.
To prevent spread of the virus, faculty and nonessential staff members were told to work from their homes starting in mid-March. Some students returned briefly to campus after spring break to collect some of their belongings from their residence halls. For those who requested it, the University gathered and shipped laptops, textbooks and other academic materials to students homes. And a total of 127 students, including international students who could not return home, were provided housing on campus.
After in-person classes halted, second-year law student Kaitlyn Wallace moved back to Kansas City, Missouri. She lived at home with her parents and younger brother and sister, participating in classes online from her bedroom.
I think I was really fortunate. My parents have good Wi-Fi, Wallace says. Everyone in the family knew my class schedule. They wouldnt bother me during class time. The family sheltered at home and stayed well, venturing out only for walks and trips to the grocery store.
Wallace says online classes went more smoothly than she expected, with professors and students adapting quickly. It was really pretty seamless, she says. She kept in touch with law school friends via daily phone calls and continued to pay rent on her South Bend apartment.
Wallace was looking forward to a job as a summer associate at a Chicago law firm. Although many students found their summer positions canceled because of the pandemic, hers was not. However, because of the coronavirus, the job became virtual, with Wallace working for the firm online from a Chicago apartment rather than in the office.
She is hoping Notre Dame can adhere to plans to resume in-person classes in August that the Universitys president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC, 76, 78M.A., announced in May. I would much prefer the classes be in-person, but I dont want there to be a COVID-19 outbreak in South Bend, she says. She feels University leaders have done a good job through the coronavirus crisis, and she trusts them to make the right decision about fall classes. Theyve been really transparent about all the decisions theyve had to make.
As winter turned into spring, Notre Dame looked and felt different.
No celebrations marked St. Patricks Day. The Blue-Gold football game and all other spring sports events were canceled. DeBartolo Performing Arts Center cut short the remainder of its spring season. Corridor walls in campus classroom buildings were covered with flyers about lectures and arts events that would never happen. Fewer candles burned in the Grotto.
In accordance with a decision by Indianas Catholic bishops, all public Masses in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and elsewhere on campus were suspended from mid-March until late May. For probably the first time in Notre Dame history, there was no public Mass on Easter Sunday. Masses continued to be celebrated in the basilica and were livestreamed online.
By late March, in an unprecedented move, the University suspended laboratory research operations across campus, the only exception being for coronavirus-related research. The hibernation included more than 300 laboratories, most in science and engineering.
Donny Hanjaya-Putra 07, an assistant professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering, studies stem cells and molecular therapies. His lab, which includes one graduate student and two postdoctoral researchers, was among those closed.
He says he understood the need for the hibernation, but worried about how it would impact the careers of those in his lab. The most precious resource we have is time. For grad students and postdocs, time is critical for them, Hanjaya-Putra says. For some students, the shutdown might mean a delay in their coursework and postponement of graduation.
While hibernation will cause delays for some research, the COVID-19 crisis likely will point to expanded research paths for academics, says Robert Bernhard, Notre Dames vice president for research. There will be infectious disease research opportunities, he says.
As spring progressed, thousands of tulips and other spring flowers were in full bloom, but few people were around to see them. Wearing face masks and practicing social distancing, construction workers continued their labors on the new Corby Hall, a new residence hall and the McKen-na Hall replacement. Based on the international economic downturn and financial uncertainty, future construction projects were placed on hold.
Notre Dame instituted a staff hiring and wage freeze, but continued to pay and provide benefits to all full-time and benefits-eligible part-time regular employees. The University refunded undergraduates $20 million in room and board for the portion of the spring semester they were not on campus. Administrators further barred nonessential expenses, including business travel, for the foreseeable future.
The University established a Student Emergency Relief Fund with donations from senior campus administrators and other private gifts. The fund will assist students whose families face unemployment and other hardships caused by the pandemic.
Meanwhile, some members of the Notre Dame community tested positive for COVID-19, the University announced on its coronavirus response web page. To protect privacy, no numbers or details were released.
By June 11, Indiana recorded more than 38,700 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 2,198 deaths. St. Joseph County had reached 1,475 confirmed cases and 56 virus-related deaths.
The commencement ceremony set for May 17 in Notre Dame Stadium was canceled. Instead, the University held a virtual online degree ceremony on that day, and plans a full, in-person Class of 2020 commencement on Memorial Day weekend 2021.
During the virtual ceremony, Father Jenkins formally conferred degrees on the graduates. In his charge to the class, Jenkins made reference to the Greatest Generation, as Americans who grew up during the Great Depression and helped win World War II have come to be known. What set them up for greatness was the adversity in which they were reared and the challenges that shaped them, he said.
Hardship has a way of bringing out what is highest and best in all, Jenkins told the graduates. The story of the Class of 2020 will include the massive social, economic and public health challenges that are now facing the world.
Im sorry for these hardships, but they are your opportunity, he said. You see, you cannot be the Fighting Irish if you never had to fight through anything. You have your fight. Seize it.
In advance of the ceremony, all graduates received commemorative boxes from the University containing a letter from Jenkins, a graduation stole, a candle and a copy of the 2020 Dome, the campus yearbook.
A virtual commissioning ceremony for Notre Dames 2020 ROTC graduates was livestreamed the same weekend. One by one, the graduates took their commissioning oath online. Many participated from their homes, often joined by close family.
Summer classes, at least through July 6, were online-only. Reunion weekend, traditionally the first weekend in June, was canceled, with plans to reschedule it in the future. And the various conferences, programs and camps that usually make campus a busy place even in summer were shuttered.
Jenkins plan to begin the fall semester on August 10 brings students to campus two weeks earlier than originally scheduled. The plan eliminates fall break and sets final exams before Thanksgiving.
Notre Dames leaders have been consulting with experts from Johns Hopkins and the Cleveland Clinic, as well as the St. Joseph County Health Department, to prepare for comprehensive COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, quarantining and isolation space for those infected when in-person classes resume.
The plan for students, faculty and staff will include social distancing, mask requirements and extensive cleaning of campus spaces. Faculty have been asked to prepare courses for both in- person and remote instruction, which would allow any student in isolation or quarantine to continue to participate.
Patrick Paulsen 20 spent the spring living in a house in South Bend with nine other seniors, staying mostly to themselves and focusing on their online classes. As the weather warmed, they invited other friends to visit them outdoors, where they could keep their distance.
While Senior Week activities were canceled, the group organized its own informal Champagne on the Steps, a tradition of toasts on the front steps of the Main Building. There were no caps and gowns this year, but the housemates were going to watch their virtual commencement together at their house. Paulsen says they made a day of it.
The week after the virtual commencement, Paulsen and his girlfriend planned to drive home to the Pacific Northwest. Hes from Seattle, and shes from Portland. The idea was to fill the car Grapes of Wrath style, and head west, he says.
Prior to the pandemic, Paulsens postcollege plan was to work for a couple years and then apply to law school. With the world economy battered and the U.S. unemployment rate at 14.7 percent by May, he realized full-time job openings would be rare. Paulsen plans to live with his parents at home in Seattle, seek a part-time job and study for the LSAT.
Paulsen and his friends already are looking forward to reuniting next May to celebrate their commencement. The housemates took time this spring to talk about the impact of the pandemic and the abrupt shift in their world. They know it will have a lasting impact on their lives, he says. This is a once-in-a-hundred-years kind of thing.
Margaret Fosmoe is an associate editor of this magazine
Posted: April 23, 2020 at 12:58 pm
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The chairmen of four U.S. bishops' committees, joined by the leaders of several health care, bioethics and pro-life organizations, "urgently and respectfully" implored the commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure any vaccines developed for the coronavirus "are free from any connection to abortion."
"To be clear, we strongly support efforts to develop an effective, safe, and widely available vaccine as quickly as possible," the leaders said in an April 17 letter to Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, the FDA commissioner.
"However, we also strongly urge our federal government to ensure that fundamental moral principles are followed in the development of such vaccines, most importantly, the principle that human life is sacred and should never be exploited," they said.
Copies of the letter were sent to President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Humans Services Secretary Alex M. Azar. The text of the letter was released late April 17 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The chairman who signed it and their respective USCCB committees were: Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, Committee on Doctrine; and Bishop John F. Doerfler of Marquette, Michigan, the Subcommittee on Health Care Issues, which is a subcommittee of the doctrine committee.
Other signatories were the heads of 20 organizations such as the Catholic Medical Association, National Catholic Bioethics Center, American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, National Association of Catholic Nurses, Southern Baptist Ethics &Religious Liberty Commission, Children of God for Life, March for Life Education & Defense Fund, Family Research Council and Students for Life of America.
"We are aware that, among the dozens of vaccines currently in development, some are being produced using old cell lines that were created from the cells of aborted babies," they said.
They noted that, for example, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. has a substantial contract from HHS and "is working on a vaccine that is being produced using one of these ethically problematic cell lines."
Other vaccines such as those being developed by Sanofi Pasteur, Inovio and the John Paul II Medical Research Institute "utilize cell lines not connected to unethical procedures and methods."
"It is critically important that Americans have access to a vaccine that is produced ethically: No American should be forced to choose between being vaccinated against this potentially deadly virus and violating his or her conscience," the group said.
"Fortunately, there is no need to use ethically problematic cell lines to produce a COVID vaccine, or any vaccine, as other cell lines or processes that do not involve cells from abortions are available and are regularly being used to produce other vaccines," they said.
The group told Hahn: "We urgently and respectfully implore you to not only ensure that Americans will have access to a COVID vaccine that is free of ethical concerns, but to encourage and incentivize pharmaceutical companies to use only ethical cell lines or processes for producing vaccines."
On April 6, a group of about a dozen Democrats in Congress sent a letter to Azar urging the Trump administration to lift restrictions on research that uses human fetal tissue for potential treatment for COVID-19. They argued that allowing fetal tissue in such studies could lead more quickly to a treatment.
On June 5, 2019, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services banned the National Institutes of Health from using human fetal stem cells from electively aborted babies for government funded research. The department also issued a $20 million grant for research to develop models that do not rely on human fetal tissue.
(The full text of the letter with all the signatories can be found online at http://usccb.org/about/pro-life-activities/index.cfm.)
Posted: at 12:58 pm
An EMT wearing protective equipment moves a patient into Elmhurst Hospital Center in the Queens borough of New York. Preliminary data suggest COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Bloomberg via Getty Images hide caption
An EMT wearing protective equipment moves a patient into Elmhurst Hospital Center in the Queens borough of New York. Preliminary data suggest COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact on communities of color.
As data emerges on the spectrum of symptoms caused by COVID-19, it's clear that people with chronic health conditions are being hit harder.
While many people experience mild illness, 89% of people with COVID-19 who were sick enough to be hospitalized had at least one chronic condition. About half had high blood pressure and obesity, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And about a third had diabetes and a third had cardiovascular disease. So, what explains this?
"Obesity is a marker for a number of other problems," explains Dr. Aaron Carroll, a public health researcher at the Indiana University School of Medicine. It's increasingly common for those who develop obesity to develop diabetes and other conditions, as well. So, one reason COVID-19 is taking its toll on people who have obesity is that their overall health is often compromised.
But does obesity specifically affect the immune system? Perhaps.
Prior research has shown that people with obesity are less protected by the flu vaccine. They tend to get sicker from the respiratory disease even if they've been immunized. In fact, researchers have found that as people gain excess weight, their metabolism changes and this shift can make the immune system less effective at fighting off viruses.
"What we see with obesity is that these [immune] cells don't function as well,' says Melinda Beck, a health researcher at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Basically, she explains, obesity throws off the fuel sources that immune cells need to function. "The [immune cells] are not using the right kinds of fuels," Beck says. And, as a result, the condition of obesity seems to "impair that critical immune response [needed] to deal with either the virus infection or [the ability] to make a robust response to a vaccine."
So this is one explanation as to why people with obesity seem more vulnerable to serious infection. But, there are many more questions about why some people are hit harder, including whether race is a factor.
The CDC found that 33% of people who've been hospitalized with COVID-19 are African American, yet only 13% of the U.S. population is African American. Some local communities have found a similar pattern in their data. Among the many (26) states reporting racial data on COVID-19, blacks account for 34% of COVID deaths, according to research from Johns Hopkins University.
This disproportionate toll can be partially explained by the fact that there's a higher prevalence of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes among African Americans compared with whites.
And as Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said last week at a White House coronavirus task force briefing, this crisis "is shining a bright light on how unacceptable that is, because yet again, when you have a situation like the coronavirus, [African Americans] are suffering disproportionately."
There are several factors, including some genetic ones, that may make African Americans more vulnerable to COVID-19. "There have been a few studies that have pointed to African Americans potentially having genetic risk factors that make them more salt-sensitive," says Ren Robinson, a professor of chemistry who researches chronic disease at Vanderbilt University. This may increase the likelihood of high blood pressure, which, in turn, is linked to more serious forms of COVID-19. "It could be a contributing factor," she says, but there are likely multiple causes at play.
Another issue to consider, she says, may be high stress levels. She says when a person experiences racial discrimination, it can contribute to chronic stress. She points to several studies that link discrimination and stress to higher levels of inflammation among black adults. "And chronic stress can make one more vulnerable to infection because it can lower your body's ability to fight off an infection," she says.
Chronic stress is linked to poverty so this could be a risk factor for low-income communities. In fact, research has shown that people who report higher levels of stress are more likely to catch a cold, when exposed to a virus, compared with people who are not stressed.
According to a new survey from Pew Research Center, health concerns about COVID-19 are much higher among Hispanics and blacks in the U.S. While 18% of white adults say they're "very concerned" that they will get COVID-19 and require hospitalization, 43% of Hispanic respondents and 31% of black adults say they're "very concerned" about that happening.
And other aspects of structural racism could contribute to the elevated risk for black Americans.
"Every major crisis or catastrophe hits the most vulnerable communities the hardest," say Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. And he points to several factors that help to explain the racial divide.
"Black workers are more likely to hold the kinds of jobs that cannot be done from home," Morial says. So, they may be more likely to be exposed to the virus, if they are working in places where it's difficult to maintain social distancing. In addition, he points to longstanding inequities in access to quality care.
"There also is bias among health care workers, institutions and systems that results in black patients ... receiving fewer medical procedures and poorer-quality medical care than white individuals," he says. He says an expansion of Medicaid into those states that still haven't expanded would be one effective policy to address these inequities.
The characteristics of the communities where people live could affect risk, too especially for those who live in low-income neighborhoods. The roots of chronic illness stem from the way people live and the choices that may or may not be available to them. People who develop the chronic illnesses that put them at higher risk of COVID-19 often lack access to affordable and healthy foods or live in neighborhoods where it's not safe to play or exercise outside.
"Let's take a patient with diabetes for example. They are already at high risk for COVID-19 by having a chronic condition," says Joseph Valenti, a physician in Denton, Texas, who promotes awareness of the social determinants of health through his work with the Physicians Foundation.
"If they also live in a food desert, they have to put themselves in greater risk if they want access to healthy food. They may need to take a bus, with people that have COVID-19 but aren't showing symptoms, to get access to nutritious food or even their insulin prescription," he says.
Poor nutrition, and the obesity linked to it, is a leading cause of premature death around the globe. And, this pandemic brings into focus the vulnerability of the millions of people living with lifestyle-related, chronic disease.
"We're seeing the convergence of chronic disease with an infection," says UNC's Beck. And the data suggest that the combination of these two can lead to more serious illness. "We're seeing that obesity can have a great influence on infection," she says.
So, will this shine a spotlight on the need to address these issues? "Hopefully," Beck says. "I think paying attention to these chronic diseases like obesity is in everybody's best interest."
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What Explains The COVID-19 Race Gap? : Shots - Health News - NPR
Posted: March 20, 2020 at 8:44 am
In early March, Michelle Tran drove 1,500 miles from her home in Wichita, Kansas, to visit her husband Thai at Californias Avenal State Prison.
Its a trek that Tran makes every 45 to 60 days. She typically spends a week in California so that she can visit her husband for two weekends. During the week, she visits family in Fresno and drives to Los Angeles to check on Thais mother, who is battling Stage IV cancer.
That first weekend, the couple sat at the small round tables in the prisons visiting room. They were able to hold hands, hug, kiss and eat snacks from the prisons vending machines. On Sunday, Tran ended their visit after two hours to drive to Sacramento for a Drop LWOP rally urging lawmakers to change laws and end sentences of life without the possibility of parole. The couple planned to say their goodbyes during her visit the following weekend.
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That visit never happened. On Wednesday, March 11, Tran received a memo announcing that, to stem possible exposure to COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was canceling all visits until further notice.
I traveled 1500 miles to see my husband for basically eight hours, recalled Tran. Despite her disappointment, she understands the need for caution, especially in a prison like Avenal where men live in dormitories with 200 beds and in a prison system which has long had problems with inadequate, substandard and even life-threatening medical care.
California is not the only prison system to cancel visits to stem possible exposure to COVID-19. Across the country, as health officials urge people to keep their distance and cities institute shutdowns of nonessential businesses and issue orders to shelter in place, 47 state prison systems, the federal prison system and Immigration and Customs Enforcement prisons have canceled in-person visits. As of March 16, only Arkansas, Nebraska and Wyoming are still allowing visits in their state prisons.
Given that social distancing has been the most effective preventive measure thus far for this rapidly spreading virus for which we have no vaccine, treatment or cure, its reasonable to believe that minimizing outside visitations can reduce the risk of transmission/exposure, Lipi Roy, the former chief of addiction medicine for New York Citys jail system, told Truthout. For the time being, we need to aggressively minimize exposure and optimize ALL preventive measures.
But, she adds, the minimization or ban on visits should be temporary.
Jack Beck, a correctional health expert and former director of the Prison Visiting Project at the Correctional Association of New York, noted that suspending visits wont prevent COVID-19 from entering state prisons. In my view, the most likely way COVID-19 will enter prisons is through the jails, he told Truthout. In 2018, over 19,000 people entered the New York state prison system. Many had previously been held in local jails where turnover and risks of exposure to COVID-19 as well as other viruses and diseases is high. Even if they discover it [COVID-19] a week after [admission], that person will have spread it to a number of other people.
On March 15, a New York City jail investigator became the first city worker to die from the COVID-19. Jail commissioner Cynthia Brann stated that, as an investigator, the man had limited contact with the incarcerated population. Two others, an incarcerated man and a correctional officer, at Rikers have also tested positive. In the state prison system, an employee at Sing Sing, one of New Yorks maximum-security prisons, also tested positive for COVID-19.
Furthermore, Beck noted that prison policies make hygienic practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as washing hands frequently with soap and water, nearly impossible. Hand sanitizer, which has alcohol, is prohibited in prisons (though New York prisoners are manufacturing hand sanitizer for outside use, and are paid an average of 65 cents per hour). Many people are in cells without hot water and, sometimes, without working sinks.
At the same time, social distancing is impossible in a prison setting. You cant control who youre interacting with, Beck noted. At meal times, for instance, people are herded into meal halls where they sit where someone else ate 15 minutes ago. But that area hasnt been sterilized.
Thats true in Michigan as well. Tara, imprisoned in Michigans sole womens prison, told Truthout that, although two of the prisons 36 housing units have been quarantined because of women with flu-like symptoms, women still go to the cafeteria together with the quarantined women going after those in general population. When I asked security, Isnt this a crowd over 100? they called me smarty pants, she stated.
Texas prisons have also not reported any cases of COVID-19. But Coretta, currently imprisoned in Texas, worries that exposure will come from a staff member. In a letter to Truthout, she wrote, these COs [correctional officers] are always sick. They are constantly coughing and sneezing.
Coretta is in the prisons restricted housing unit, where she and others are locked in their cells nearly 24 hours each day. But even in isolation, incarcerated people are at risk for exposure. Prison policy dictates that officers conduct cell inspections every three days. They take us out of our cell handcuffed, she described. They enter, flush our toilets, turn on the faucets, hit the walls with a black rubber mallet, then return us to the cell. When we are waiting beside our cell door, there [are] two officers, one on each side, holding each arm. Theyre coughing and sneezing. Im fussing, Sneeze in your elbow! Use that Purell before you touch me!
Indiana prisons have not reported cases of COVID-19. Its only a matter of time though, wrote Sarah Pender, currently imprisoned at the womens Rockville Correctional Facility, in an e-message to Truthout. We understand that when it comes here, we will not get any kind of treatment except Tylenol and temperature monitoring. We will suffer, and there will be people who die. There are several women who have compromised immune systems, are diabetic, who have lung issues, or are over 60. Since the death rate is 2 to 3 percent, that means we will inevitably have some deaths here.
In another e-message, Pender added, I dont want to think about what they will do with women who need ICU treatment or ventilators. We only have 13 beds in the infirmary, and only one isolation room. I hope we dont have to find out.
For the past three years, Donna Robinson has traveled over 400 miles from her home in Buffalo, New York, to visit her daughter Missy, who is serving a 15 years-to-life sentence at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. Robinson has no car, so she must travel from Buffalo to New York City where she then boards a Metro-North train. Once at Bedford Hills, she takes a five-minute taxi ride to the prison.
The last time she visited Missy was in late January. By then, cases of COVID-19 had already been confirmed outside of China and the World Health Organization was days away from declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. In the prison visiting room, however, there was no hand sanitizer or soap for visitors or their incarcerated loved ones.
Even before New York suspended prison visits on March 13, Robinson, now age 64, realized that she could no longer visit. Im in the high-risk category, she told Truthout. Im over 60. I have a lowered immune system. I have diabetes.
New York prisons offer video visits (or televisits) and, in some cities such as Buffalo and New York City, have satellite locations where family members can video visit with their loved ones for free. Robinson has signed up for video visits and is now awaiting both approval and information on where she can go to access these visits for free. Video visits will never take the place of in-person visits, Robinson acknowledges. Theres nothing like that hug, she said. During their six-hour visits, mother and daughter play Uno, eat food from the prison vending machines, and take pictures together. Now, she and Missy stay in touch by phone at the cost of 43 cents per minute.
At 10 cents per minute, the cost of prison phone calls in Massachusetts is less than a quarter of the cost of calls in New York state. Even so, many families struggle with the cost of staying in contact with their incarcerated loved ones.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley knows about these difficulties. Her father was in and out of prison throughout her childhood. As an adult, Pressley married a man who had served 10 years in prison. Though Conan Harris had already been released and successfully rebuilt his life in Boston by the time they met and married, hearing about his struggles gave the lawmaker insight into the challenges faced by many families, including the high price to stay connected.
Any avenue to maintain familial bonds should be free, Pressley said in a webinar about COVID-19 and the prison system. If visits are going to be cancelled as a strategy of containment, then video conferencing and phone calls should be free.
Jack Beck noted that phone time is already limited and, with visits canceled, there will be greater demand for the limited number of phones inside the prison. At the same time, calls continue to be restricted to small blocks of time, typically 15 to 20 minutes.
For Cat Perkins and her husband Gary, that 15-minute call ends way too quickly. He always asks, Why do those 15 minutes go by so fast? Perkins told Truthout. Her husband is in Chuckawalla Valley State Prison, California, where 2,733 people are incarcerated in a prison designed for 1,738 people. Many of the men around him cannot afford phone calls or have families in other countries, so Gary does not face longer phone lines. Nonetheless, Perkins pays $1.30 for a 15-minute call, a sharp decrease from the previous $5 per call.
In Georgia, a 15-minute phone call ranges from $1.95 to $2.40, depending on the distance. Thats now the only way that Cynthia Holland can stay in touch with her daughter Michelle, who is serving a life sentence at Georgias Arrendale State Prison.
For the past 11 years, Holland has visited Michelle every weekend, driving the 90 miles from her home in Atlanta. Now, like Robinson and Missy in New York and families across the country, the two must rely on phone calls and e-messages.
But Holland now gets fewer phone calls from Michelle. It makes you worry more, she told Truthout. She has avoided using video visits because of the cost (33 cents per minute as of 2016). If it [the ban on visits] goes on too long, I guess Ill have to start, she said. She, too, thinks that prisons should decrease the cost of video visits and phone calls, especially while visits are suspended. (The company JPay, which provides e-messages for Georgia prisons, has stated that it will now provide two free e-messages per week while visits are suspended.)
Michelle Tran spends between $100 to $150 each month for phone calls and knows many family members who spend twice that amount. She expects that, as businesses close and employees lose paychecks and possibly jobs in attempts to prevent COVID-19 exposure, the cost of prison calls will become increasingly prohibitive. That, in turn, adds to the stress of not being able to see an incarcerated loved one. She thinks prison phone companies should offer free calls during this time. We know its a billion-dollar industry, she reflected.
In some states, prisons and private contractors are offering reduced rates to keep in touch. In New York, while visits are suspended, incarcerated people will receive five free postage stamps, two free e-messages and one free phone call per week. Incarcerated people in Connecticut will receive two free phone calls each week. Illinois prisons are allowing two free 20-minute calls and one free video visit during this time. This is not a weekly offer, noted Alexis Mansfield of the Womens Justice Institute. Mansfield also noted that Illinois prisons do not have enough phones to meet demand even during non-pandemic times.
Officials in Shelby County, Tennessee, announced that they would waive all fees for phone calls and video visits in its jails. Utah prison officials are offering 10 free 15-minute phone calls per week. On March 17, California followed suit, announcing that prison phone calls will be free from March 19 to March 26. At Chuckawalla Valley, however, people were issued a memo stating that they would only be allowed free phone calls on March 19 and March 26, not continually throughout that week. For many inside that prison, even two days of free calls was a boon. In his nightly call on March 18, Perkinss husband told her that men had started lining up at 6 pm so that they could call their families for free once midnight struck.
However, many other state prisons and the private telecommunications companies with which they contract have been slow to offer similar cost reductions.
Meanwhile, at least one other country is taking more dramatic steps in the face of the virus: Iran temporarily released 85,000 prisoners to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In the United States, advocates in Indiana, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, California and New York are demanding that their states do the same. They have issued open letters to their respective governors calling on them to release people who are most vulnerable, including people who are over the age of 60 and/or medically fragile.
Cat Perkinss husband Gary, age 56, does not fall into either category. Nonetheless, shes advocating that California Gov. Gavin Newsom consider early release for people who are over age 60, medically fragile or have anticipated release dates in 2020 or 2021.
We have a lot of inmates who are sickly. Why not release them? she asked. She notes that her husband, who has been incarcerated since 1986 and is serving a life without parole sentence, is no longer the same man that he was at age 22. The same holds true for the many other people who have spent decades in prison. Theyve done 30, 40 years. Why not give them a little bit of freedom?
Across the country, in New York, Donna Robinson, a member of Release Aging People in Prison, has joined the call for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to release incarcerated people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19. That would not affect her daughter Missy, now in her 40s, but Robinson remembers and is still outraged by the death of 61-year-old Valerie Gaiter. Gaiter was 40 years into a 50-to-life sentence and 10 years from her first parole hearing when she died of esophageal cancer. That could be my daughter dying behind bars at the age of 61 after complaining about pain for a year, Robinson reflected.
No governors have yet responded to this call for releasing the most vulnerable people.
On the city level, however, judges, jail officials, jail oversight monitors and even prosecutors are considering mass release as a way to slow exposure. In Chicago, the Cook County sheriffs office has already released several people who were determined to be at higher risk, including a pregnant person and a person who had been hospitalized for treatment not related to coronavirus.
The Los Angeles sheriffs department and judges in Cleveland are considering doing the same. In New York City, the Board of Correction, which oversees conditions in the citys jails, recommended the immediate release of people over age 50, those with underlying health conditions, people detained for technical violations of probation or parole, and those sentenced to less than one year behind bars.
Thirty-one prosecutors, in places ranging from San Francisco and Brooklyn to Mississippi and Alabama, issued a joint statement pledging to reduce the numbers held in jails by releasing people detained because they cant afford cash bail, those with six months or less to serve, and people considered at high risk for COVID-19.
Not every county official is taking measures to reduce the flow of people into jails and prisons. Andrea James, co-founder of the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, stated that a federal judge recently denied a motion from a woman who was scheduled to self-surrender and begin her prison sentence. The woman, said James, has a severely compromised immune system, recently underwent surgery, and is about to begin chemotherapy.
We need to start from the framework of release, not hand sanitizers, said James.
Posted: January 27, 2020 at 11:53 pm
The tiny body seemed consumed by tubes and wires and monitors.
Just one day prior, Stephanie and Cody Smith had learned the terrible truth about why their 18-month-old son, Charlie, had been so sick recently. He had neuroblastoma, a cancer that forms on the nerve endings. Scans revealed cancer was on his kidney, lungs, bone and lymph nodes.
To stem the aggressive cancer, his doctors immediately got to work, putting in catheters, taking bone marrow biopsies and preparing for the start of intense chemotherapy. Charlie lay in his hospital bed eating Cheetos Puffs, his favorite food, and sitting with his parents.
"It was hard when we got the news," Stephanie Smith said. "I tried to be calm and collected; I had to be strong for my baby. But its been hard."
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The past two months have come straight out of a nightmare for the Smith family. Since Charlie was diagnosed with Stage IV neuroblastoma in November, each day brings uncertainty.
The Franklin family has spent 49 of the last 60 days at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. Charlie has gone through rounds of chemotherapy, suffering through fevers, mouth sores, extreme fatigue and nausea that wracked his small body. His treatment will last over the next 18 months, and will include chemotherapy, stem cell transplants, blood transfusions, radiation and immunotherapy.
But despite everything theyve been through, the Smiths remain resolute that Charlie will get better. They have relied on their faith, and an army of supporters who have stepped forward to help them in their worst time, to get them through.
"It was amazing to see so many people come up and love on us. It has taught us to be generous people; weve always thought we were generous people, but when you see the number of people who care for you and pray for you and support you, its really amazing," Stephanie Smith said.
The Smiths have partnered with Versiti Blood Center of Indiana to host a blood drive in Greenwood Saturday. The Cheering for Charlie event will be held from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., to help increase blood supplies for patients such as Charlie who rely on transfusions to survive.
Every two seconds, someone needs life-saving blood, whether theyre bravely battling disease like Charlie, undergoing surgery or are victims of trauma," said Duane Brodt, spokesman for Versiti. "People need people since blood cant be manufactured."
For most of his life, Charlie was a happy-go-lucky toddler. He loved to smile and laugh, beaming joy. Where his 3-year-old brother Henry was more of a wild child, Stephanie Smith said, Charlie seemed to always be in a pleasant, good mood.
His parents described him as their "happy baby."
Thats what made his lethargy, lack of appetite and gradual decline in health so concerning.
"He was learning how to walk over the summer, and started getting sick," Stephanie Smith said. "We just thought it was a virus; we didnt think of the worst."
Charlie developed a low-grade fever, wasnt eating well and was falling asleep unexpectedly while playing with toys. He wasnt acting like himself, Stephanie Smith said.
During a visit to his pediatrician, the doctor found a hard area on Charlies abdomen, and recommended doing some blood tests and taking an X-ray. Those tests only led to more questions he had severe range anemia and elevated levels of platelets in his blood. But the doctor didnt have any conclusive answers as to what was causing it.
Stephanie Smith, a nurse at Franciscan Health, started hearing warning bells in her mind. That, combined with a mothers intuition, convinced her that they needed to take Charlie to Riley Hospital for Children. After 12 hours in the emergency room, and dozens of tests, doctors found a large tumor in Charlies abdomen.
"Sometimes, when kids are diagnosed with cancer, they can go home and be in and out of the hospital for treatment, but Charlie was really sick. The tumor was pushing on his kidney, damaging his kidney, so we had to stay in the hospital," Stephanie Smith said.
The pathology lab at Riley Hospital for Children confirmed the tumor was neuroblastoma. The cancer forms in immature nerve endings, often in the adrenal glands located near the kidneys and is most common in children age 5 and under, according to the American Cancer Society.
But the cancer is very rare; only about 800 new cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
Neuroblastomas grow and spread very rapidly, so treatment would have to be aggressive, doctors explained to the family. Charlies oncologist recommended starting with two rounds of focused chemotherapy, followed by the extraction of his red blood cells for stem cell transplants, then another three rounds of chemotherapy.
Two different stem cell transplants would be held about a month apart, and Charlie would start radiation treatment. Immunotherapy, which jolts the immune system into targeting and killing cancer cells, would be the final part of the regimen.
Almost immediately, Charlie started his chemotherapy.
"It grows so quickly, that we had to be aggressive. The beginning was pretty intense," Stephanie Smith said.
The treatment was hard on Charlies young body. He developed mouth sores and didnt want to eat, and his nausea left him miserable. The Smith family essentially relocated to the hospital, staying with him constantly.
But at the same time, their friends and family, as well as complete strangers, stepped up to offer help. A meal train was set up to provide the family with food, and prayers came from all directions.
A GoFundMe page has raised more than $36,000 for the family. A community Facebook page has more than 5,000 members.
"We had a rally of people come around us," Stephanie Smith said. "We couldnt have done it without all of the people who have come together."
Charlie has completed his first four rounds of chemotherapy, and on Jan. 20, he was able to return home with his family to wait for surgery to remove the tumor in his abdomen. That operation is tentatively going to be early to mid February.
In the meantime, the family has been soaking in the opportunity to be together somewhere besides the hospital. They have also been working to plan the blood drive being held on Saturday.
Charlie has relied on blood transfusions throughout his treatment, and a blood drive would be a way to raise awareness of the importance of those transfusions to cancer patients, Stephanie Smith said.
"Charlie received quite a few blood products, especially early on in his treatment. He had 12 transfusions in these 2 1/2 months. For his little body, thats a lot," she said. "Being a nurse, I didnt realize the number of cancer patients who need blood products. Its so important. So this was a way to let people know that."
Stephanie Smiths sister, Shelby Richards, knew people who had organized drives with their friends and helped the family get the Cheering for Charlie drive going.
The drive is a perfect opportunity to remind people that blood donations are vitally important, Brodt said. Versiti Blood Center of Indiana needs to collect at least 560 blood donations every day to support the need at its 80 hospital partners throughout the state, he said.
"So our Cheering for Charlie will truly make a difference and help save lives," Brodt said.
For the Smith family, the drive is a way to give back for all the love theyve been shown.
"Its really cool for us to see how many people have signed up, and also be advocates for other people who need blood, to just get the word out there about how important it is," Stephanie Smith said. "Its encouraging for us to see people come out to support Charlie and kids like him."
If you go
Cheering for Charlie blood drive
What: A blood drive honoring Charlie Smith, an 18-month-old Franklin child diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nerve cells.
When: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Versiti Blood Center of Indiana, 8739 U.S. 31 S., Indianapolis
Who can donate: Generally, anyone in good health age 16 and up can donate. Make sure you do not have a cold, flu or sore throat at the time of donation.
How to schedule an appointment: Go to Versiti.org/Indiana
Information: Learn more about Charlie on the Cheering for Charlie! Facebook group page.