A bone marrow match for Keano

Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) patient Keano is going from strength to strength since his bone marrow transplant for severe congenital neutropenia. His treatment for the rare disease features in the third series of the BBC Great Ormond Street documentary.

When Keano was just a few days old his mum Chantelle noticed that his umbilical cord was not healing. She took him to the doctors at home in Zimbabwe who thought that Keano had a hernia.

His cord, however, continued not to heal and so Keano was referred to multiple doctors at several hospitals in order to investigate.

Tests, operations and a diagnosis

A doctor at a hospital in Harare suspected that Keano had a blood disorder. He was referred to a hospital in South Africa for further tests.

During this time, and by the age of just two, Keano had a large number of operations including removal of half of a lung and liver, and lots of invasive procedures including drainage of his umbilical cord. He also had an intervention to drain his lungs, which has left them scarred.

After 10 months of tests, Keano was finally diagnosed with severe congenital neutropenia. The condition makes individuals prone to recurrent infections due to a lack of neutrophils – a type of white blood cell in the bone marrow which fights infection.

Flying to the UK for treatment

Keano and his mum
Keano and his Mum Chantelle
Keano began to have regular blood tests to monitor his neutrophils, and it soon became clear that he would need a bone marrow transplant. The transplant would replace his damaged bone marrow, which couldn’t replace the right levels of white blood cells, with healthy bone marrow from a donor.

At that time, the genetic tests were not available in South Africa which meant Keano, then three, and his mum Chantelle would need to travel to the UK for treatment.

Since flying to the UK in 2008, Keano has been in and out of hospital battling infection after infection. In August 2014 he became so unwell that he was admitted to GOSH, where he has remained for the past eight months.

The search for a suitable bone marrow donor became more urgent than ever.

Finding a donor match

After seven years of unsuccessful searching for a donor match, the difficult decision was made that Chantelle, although not an exact match for Keano, should donate bone marrow cells ready for transplantation into her son.

While there was no guarantee that the procedure would work, Keano would be unlikely to survive many more years without it.

Unfortunately, Keano’s body rejected his mum’s cells. Doctors continued to look for a more suitable match – a difficult task due to Keano’s mixed ethnic background and the current lack of donors from mixed and ethnic minority groups.

Eventually, a potential match was found in America. Donor cells were processed, transported and transplanted into Keano in a record two weeks.

The transplant was successful.

Looking to the future

Now Keano has a working immune system, he continues to go from strength to strength. 

He is visited daily by a teacher at the Hospital School and his mum says “he has a great sense of humour”. He loves hedgehogs and calls them porcupines. His dream is to own an African pigmy hedgehog.

Now aged 10, Keano hopes to leave hospital soon.