When he was born at Mount Sinai Hospital, Jack was not breathing. Doctors whisked him away from his mother and started efforts to resuscitate him. They managed to save his life but soon had to deliver some bad news to his parents, Stephen Pankratz and Kim Kucher.

Their son had Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE), brain damage caused by lack of oxygen to the brain and other organs compounded by low blood flow to vital organs. Jack would likely suffer extensive cognitive and physical problems.

Heartbroken, the Oakville, Ont., couple contacted Toronto-based Create Cord Blood Bank, where they had stored blood and tissue stem cells from Jack’s umbilical cord. After a series of meetings with the cord blood bank laboratory director, Dr. Ayub Lulat, and neonatal specialists at the Hospital for Sick Children, the specialists agreed to perform an experimental procedure.

Just 12 days old, Jack was infused with his own stem cells, becoming the youngest person ever to undergo the therapy in Canada and the first in the country to be treated for HIE with stem cells. He may turn out to be the first of many. In scientific and medical circles, stem cell experts are predicting the dawn of a new era in the treatment of HIE, autism and other brain disorders.

Just days after the transplant, Jack was free of multiple intravenous lines for the first time and was drinking from a bottle while cradled in his mother’s arms. “That was the day we finally got to meet our son,” says Kim.


Jack, who celebrated his second birthday this past summer, is now thriving. He has cerebral palsy and faces challenges ahead, but his development has far surpassed doctors’ expectations. He is much more alert and dexterous than expected given the extent of his brain damage at birth. Kim predicts his next MRI will reflect that change. “We think the stem cell transplant has played a role and is continuing to play a role in his progress.”

MORE INFO news.nationalpost.com (November 2016)