SHELBY TWP. (WWJ) – Thanks to modern technology and medical breakthrough, a metro Detroit boy with cerebral palsy is experiencing a miracle.
We first met the Kijeks last January and between smiles and laughter, we met Drew. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy shortly after birth, life with Drew hasn’t been easy.
“If he tried sitting and we let him go for even a split second, he would just tip over because he didn’t have any balance,” Drew’s mother Maureen Kijek told WWJ’s Kathryn Larson.
But now a new door has opened for the Shelby Township boy. Drew was one of the first children in the world to participate in a procedure to treat his cerebral palsy with the use of cord blood stem cells.
“He would always get very frustrated, being trapped in a body that doesn’t work. And so for me to see him smile and to see the look of contentment on his face and pride when he does something, however small that it might seem to other people, it’s huge for him. You know, the fact that he’s doing two things at once, he’s sitting independently, he’s able to use his hands where before he could only really do one little thing at a time,” Kijek said.
The 12-year-old’s physical therapist Kathleen Lewandowski said she almost can’t believe her eyes.
“For us, we were thrilled if he held his head up for five seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds, if he could track something consistently and for him to sit, I mean, it’s a miracle. I’ve been a therapist for 10 years and that doesn’t happen,” Lewandowski said.
Kijek, who banked her son’s stem cells at birth, said it’s nothing short of a miracle.
“It’s incredible and it’s all those things that people think ‘Oh, it could never happen,’ or it’s science fiction or whatever, but it’s not. It’s just the body’s way of healing itself and getting back to the wholeness that it always wanted to be. And, you know, with the help of the stem cells, which replace the bad cells,” Kijek said. “I don’t see any reason why the FDA wouldn’t do this. It’s safe, it’s effective, it works.”
Shortly after we met Drew last year, the Kijeks flew to Georgia for the first of two FDA trial visits. Drew was fully awake for the procedure that involved intravenously injecting either his own stem cells or a placebo.
On high hopes, the family returned home but were met with frustration and heartache. During the twice weekly two-hour sessions at Crawl Walk Jump Run in Sterling Heights, Lewandowski said at first, she saw no signs the stems cells had made a difference.
“I mean, I was hoping, but the first they got the possible injection, I didn’t see a difference in him and that’s hard,” Lewandowski said.
“Between February and May, we didn’t see any changes, even though we had been working on these same sort of things, the same goals for many months,” Kijek said.
But in May, round two of Drew’s treatment came and this time, it was a miracle as the Kijek family shot home video of Drew sitting up on his own — for the first time in his life.
“It was incredible. I never thought I would see it, honestly, and to see if for the split second or the couple seconds that it was happening, made my day, made my week, my month. And then now, just a couple months later, you know, seeing him able to sit for minutes at a time, it’s incredible. I never thought that I would see that,” Kijek said.
Crawl Walk Jump Run owner, Stephanie Serafimovski, now believes Drew will continue to thrive.
“Really, it just gives me goose bumps because we’ve seen Drew just come so far, but he’s come really far in the last three months. So, with kids that have neurological issues, what might take a normal developing child just a few weeks to learn takes them months, if sometimes not years. So, what Drew has learned in the last three months has been, you know, unbelievable,” Serafimovski said.
And one day she believes Drew will be able to do much more.
“When you’re a baby, you learn how to get up on your elbows and then you learn how to get up on your hands and knees and you learn how to sit, and then from those positions you learn how to move into and out of them, and then eventually the goal is walking,” Serafimovski said.
But in the meantime, it’s all about the baby steps — from playing with rice and beans to sitting still for an episode of “The Wiggles,” and for Drew that means sitting calmly while doing different activities.
“And he comfortably goes in and out of these different poses, which is what we would do. You know, we would move normally between the different poses,” Lewandowski said.
Drew, who will return for a final FDA trial visit to the Georgia Regents Hospital at the end of year, still has more cord blood and Kijek said she’s actively seeking out other stem cells studies.
“The problem is that most of the studies that I have found that are out there are for younger children, not children that are past the age of two or six or whatever. The closer the time to the incident or the damage, the better, really, for studies sake. But we’re seeing that, I mean even after, he was 11 when he got his stem cells, so after 11 years it’s still making a difference,” Kijek said.
Still, Kijek remains hopeful and said she is just happy to see Drew come out of his shell and experience more of his world.
To learn more about stem cells and banking cord blood, visit www.cordblood.com.
This story is part of an episode of CW50 Detroit’s community interest program “Street Beat.” Tune in to “Street Beat” Saturdays at 8:30 a.m. on CW50.