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American seeks marrow donor for adopted daughter in China

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

BEIJING -- To save her adopted daughter, Linda Wells began by going halfway across the United States to find a doctor. Now the quest has taken her even farther -- to China, the homeland of the 6-year-old girl slowly dying from bone marrow failure.

"China gave our daughter life, and now I must ask it to give her life again," said Wells, who hopes to find a donor for a bone marrow transplant -- ideally, a sibling or another member of Kailee Wells' birth family.

"She could die of an infection in eight hours or live for another year," Wells said Tuesday in Beijing. "We don't really know how long she has."

'Never alone'

Born in the central province of Hunan, Kailee was found abandoned on the steps of a training institute for teachers in the city of Changde. Given the name "Changban," or "never alone," she spent a year in an orphanage before being adopted by the Wells family of Albuquerque, N.M. She fell ill just after turning 5.

Kailee's doctors have gone through 8 million people on global donor databases in an ever more desperate search for matches, Wells said. At her side sat a framed photo showing her daughter neck-deep in a pile of autumn leaves, laughing.

Wells came to China hoping for better luck. But while the marrow bank maintained by the Red Cross Society of China contains more than 50,000 samples, none match, said Hong Junling, who helps oversee donor matches for the organization.

So on Tuesday, Wells issued a special appeal to Kailee's birth mother: Come forward.

The girl's best chance is getting a donation from a sibling; about one in four brothers or sisters are usually a match.

"I cannot save her alone," Wells said, addressing Kailee's mother. "Please help me."

Wells and her sister plan to travel to Hunan on Thursday in search of Kailee's biological family. The Red Cross branch in Hunan will do all it can to help, its deputy secretary-general, Peng Lifu, was quoted as saying in Tuesday's China Daily newspaper.

Family unknown

Hunan has about 67 million people, and no one knows where Kailee's birth family is. But Wells and Hong said Kailee's case will help raise awareness of the need for donors in China -- even if a match isn't found.

"To save Kailee is to save many people," Hong said.

Kailee led an active life during her first years in Albuquerque, throwing herself into swimming, gymnastics and ballet. She loved jokes and earned the nickname "sous chef" from relatives for her meticulous food-preparation skills and enthusiastic use of spices.

"She never got sick. She was very healthy," Wells said

Just days after her fifth birthday, though, Kailee began running a high fever and started bleeding through her nose, her mouth, even her eyes.

Doctors said she lost half of her body's blood and gave her a 20 percent chance for survival. The diagnosis: aplastic anemia, where the bone marrow stops producing blood platelets and red and white blood cells.

Wells and her husband sought the help of Dr. David Margolis, an associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin and an expert on the disease. Mother and daughter flew from Albuquerque to Milwaukee and spent five months there for treatment. Kailee's adoptive father read her bedtime stories over the phone every night.

With the help of blood transfusions and medication, Kailee's condition stabilized. She now lives with a catheter in her chest and a strict regimen of medicines.

But doctors warn that she is susceptible to potentially fatal infections at any time, said Wells, 50, who gave up her job as a lawyer to care for her daughter.

"The statistical chance of success is very slim," Wells acknowledged. "However, as Kailee's mother, I am not operating on statistics. As long as Kailee is alive, we will do whatever we need -- however slim the chance."


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