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A miracle and a clarion call for more

A Vietnamese girl adopted by a Swiss family underwent a stem cell transplant last Friday, months after she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Joon Gremillet, 18, is under special care at the Geneva General Hospital with visits restricted to protect her from infections, given that her immune system drops close to zero, according to a post on the blog site "Help Joon," which was opened to look for a matching donor by her adoptive father Patrick Gremillet, a senior program coordinator at the United Nations Development Program.     

Patrick received Joon from a maternity hospital in Hai Phong in northern Vietnam and she has grown up with the family, traveling through Laos, Thailand, US, Austria and France.

Joon, who started her university studies last year in Geneva, was diagnosed with leukemia last May.

She was hospitalized immediately and received chemotherapy before the search began for a bone marrow donor that considerably increases chances of survival.

The father said a donor was a stressful issue as Joon was adopted and there was little chance of finding a matching donor in her current community.

He said there are also few Asians, and Vietnamese in particular, who are enrolled in the international stem cell donor registry.

Fortunately, a compatible donor was found in November, although details are being kept confidential.

Patrick said the donor's stem cells were infused into his daughter in a process that lasted nearly two hours.

He said Joon will have to wait for between ten to 30 days before the transplanted cells begin to circulate in her bones and gradually resume production of bone marrow and blood cells. If things go well, she can regain immunity after three months.

The hospital staffs are also closely monitoring her for any symptoms of the "graft versus host" disease, which can develop into a very serious problem.

Patrick said there is still a long way to go, but the transplant "was a crucial milestone."

Sam Seyadoussane, who runs the Canada-based Virtual Medical Miracle Network that connects patients of rare medical cases to donors and doctors, said that the transplant was a "miracle" for Joon, one that will has a much lower chance of happening in Vietnam which has many leukemia patients but not a bone marrow bank.

Patrick said he would keep blog active to continue spreading the word on the importance of bone marrow/stem cell donation and registration with international stem cell banks.

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