Boy Cured of Sickle Cell Anemia

9:06 PM EST; December 13, 1999; Atlanta, GA (AP) -- A 13-year-old boy who underwent an experimental blood-cell transfusion was declared cured of sickle cell anemia Monday. Doctors had replaced the bone marrow of Keone Penn with stem cells from the umbilical cord of an unrelated infant in the hopes that the new cells would produce healthy marrow, which in turn produces blood cells.

"I'm talking, my heart is beating and my brain is working," Keone said in a statement from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. "I made it." The transplant was performed December 11, 1998, and was believed to be the first time unrelated cord blood has been used to treat sickle cell anemia -- an inherited, crippling and sometimes lethal disease prevalent among blacks. Doctors had said that they would wait a year to see if the stem cells were creating healthy blood before declaring Keone cured. "The cord blood cells are now fully operational, making all healthy blood cells. ... We see no signs of sickle cells," said Dr. Andrew M. Yeager, the Emory University physician who performed the procedure.

The procedure could mean an alternative to painful bone-marrow transplants as a way of treating sickle cell, which is caused by defective bone marrow that creates irregularly shaped cells that are unable to pass through tiny blood vessels. Before Keone received the stem cells, doctors had given the procedure a 50-50 chance of working.