Monday, March 30, 2009

GT: Banking on stem cells

It was terrific seeing Dylan's story on the front page of the Sunday, 3/29, Corvallis Gazette-Times. Do you think we can garner some help for this wonderful family? Dylan's upcoming treatment is very expensive. See Dylan's Journey here.

Photo by Casey Campbell/Gazette-Times
Dylan Cain, 4, uses a towel bar attached to a massage table to help him stand while his father, Mark, is ready to assist. Dylan, who has cerebral palsy, is set to receive stem cell treatment at Duke University. Story by Alex Paul follows.

By Alex Paul
Corvallis Gazette-Times

Wearing a New York Yankees T-shirt, 4-year-old Dylan Cain hurls a rubber ball across the living room of his parents’ Corvallis home with amazing punch for a 52-pound lefty.

If stem cell infusion at the Duke University School of Medicine in coming weeks is successful, it’s possible that Dylan, who has cerebral palsy, will someday be able to show off his pitching prowess on a real baseball diamond.

That scenario is well beyond the dreams of his parents, Mark and Jinger Cain. They will be ecstatic if the stem cell project — which will use stem cells collected from Dylan’s umbilical cord at birth — provides him with better sight and — miracle of miracles — the ability to walk.

Dylan was oxygen-deprived at birth and later was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Although he has some peripheral vision, he is legally blind, cannot walk on his own and has a vocabulary of fewer than a dozen words.

But what Dylan lacks in physical ability, he makes up for with a beaming smile and deep belly laugh that would warm the coldest heart. He also has the support of two loving parents who have been devoted to improving their son’s life since his birth on Dec. 16, 2004.

The living room of their duplex is filled with tables where they and volunteers work with Dylan every day, training his brain to remember tasks and stimulating learning. A recent cause to celebrate was the day Dylan used a towel bar his father attached to the side of a massage table to pull himself to his feet and grab some toys. It was, his mother said, a major breakthrough in a world filled with progress that is measured in tiny increments.

A decision made at Dylan’s birth may be a major turning point for the family, Jinger Cain said.

“We decided to bank Dylan’s umbilical cord blood,” she said. “The stem cells from that blood now have the potential to change Dylan’s life or, potentially, even for one of us down the road.”

Jinger was working at Hewlett-Packard when she and her husband decided to spend the $2,000. She now sells real estate, and Mark works part-time at Linn-Benton Community College. Medical costs have hit their financial resources hard, but they continue to seek the best for their son, often with the help of community fundraising projects.

“We had heard about banking cord blood, and we saw it as an insurance policy,” Mark said. “We were willing to take the chance.”

Dylan’s blood was stored with a company called ViaCord, based in Cambridge, Mass. In January, the family received a letter from ViaCord informing them that Duke University was willing to consider Dylan as part of its pediatric study based on stem cells.

“We almost put it in the shredder. It came in a plain envelope,” Jinger said. “I read it about 1 a.m. and cried. We had been looking into taking Dylan to China, where they have had tremendous success with stem cell cases.”

Jinger said because the stem cells come from Dylan’s own umbilical cord blood, they will be an exact match. There have been numerous stories worldwide of improvements in medical conditions even from partially matched cell infusions.

Jinger emphasized that the stem cells that will be used to treat Dylan are not embryonic; they are his own. No embryos were destroyed to collect the stem cells. In Germany, there have been successful tests using stem cells taken from bone marrow, Jinger said.

“The stem cells know where to go to attach themselves to damaged cells,” Jinger said. “Some people report seeing improvement in just days or a few weeks. There are stories about children who could not see when they went for treatment but could see lights when they flew home.”

Beike Biotechnology in China claims it has completed more than 13,000 stem cell transplants since 2001, with nearly 80 percent of its patients showing signs of improvement — some of them making remarkable progress.

The Cains haven’t been given an official timeline for their trip to North Carolina, but they expect it will be in late April or early May. They will travel on a weekend. Dylan will receive an evaluation on Monday and a cell infusion — which takes about one hour — on Tuesday. He will meet with a neurologist on Wednesday, and the family will return to Oregon.

At home, they will continue Dylan’s intense physical therapy and a wholesome, all-natural nutrition program in hopes of boosting the stem cell healing process.

The cost of their travel, the stem cell infusion and follow-up meetings is estimated to be about $19,000, which they don’t have, Jinger said. Over the past four years, they have spent every dime they had trying to help their son.

The Cains are realistic about their expectations and hopes for Dylan.

“We will take anything, no matter how little,” Jinger said. “Our hope is that he will get better vision, better body and muscle control. We would take any or all three. I originally thought his toughest challenge was going to be his blindness, but now I think it may be his inability to walk.”

Jinger has started a blog where she can share information with other parents of children with special medical needs.

“This isn’t just our journey,” Jinger said. “Other parents can gain from our experiences.”

To learn more about Dylan, or to donate, see

Alex Paul can be reached at or by calling 758-9526.