Oregon Girl Leaves Hospital After Successful Stem Cell Transplant for Arthritis

12/20/99    Portland, Ore.

Mollie Hauck goes home for Christmas and rides a bike for the first time in her life.

Ten-year-old Mollie Hauck of Canby, Ore., is able to ride a bike for the first time in her life thanks to a successful stem cell transplant. She received a transplant last month to treat a severe case of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Today, Mollie will be discharged from Oregon Health Sciences University's Doernbecher Children's Hospital and ride home in a limousine, courtesy of I Max Transporation. While still in the hospital, Mollie rode a tricycle for the first time, up and down the oncology unit halls. Finally, Mollie is free of her arthritis pain.

"Now I feel like a normal kid," said Mollie. "Now I can be home, where I belong, for Christmas." Mollie received a bike from her grandma last year, but cried when she couldn't ride it. This year will be extra special because she'll be able to ride her bike for the first time, something she's always dreamed of.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing when Mollie rode the trike. I can't even find the words to express how incredible it is to see her free of pain for the first time," said Kathy Hauck, Mollie's mom. "For Christmas, all her brother and sisters asked for was to have Mollie come home, and now we can really fulfill that wish."

Last August, physicians from Mollie's health plan, Kaiser Permanente, and Doernbecher approved the procedure, making Mollie one of the first patients in the United States authorized for a stem cell transplant to treat an autoimmune disease. Several children in the Netherlands have reportedly had a remission in their arthritic symptoms after doctors shut down their immune systems with radiation and chemotherapy then transplanted their stem cells back into their bodies. More than 200,000 children in the United States suffer from JRA.

Kaiser Permanente pediatrician Martha Brooks, M.D., has been Mollie's physician since birth. "Our hope is that this procedure will provide long-term relief from the daily ordeal of pain and restriction Mollie's endured almost her whole life," says Brooks, who practices at Kaiser Permanente's Mt. Scott Medical Office in Clackamas. "I hope she'll be able to do the things a normal 10-year-old gets to do, like attend school. That may be possible with her arthritis in remission."

Mollie spent a total of 37 days in Doernbecher. During that time she underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatment then received a re-infusion of her cells on Nov. 23. Following the transplant, she spent 15 days in isolation while her immune system grew back. Since the transplant, she has not experienced any of the arthritis pain that has racked her body since she was three years old. Kathy says Mollie can now "reach for the sky" like never before. One indicator of that is, prior to the transplant, Mollie could only raise her arms to her shoulders. Now, Kathy says, she can almost extend them completely. In addition, she now only takes two pills every day, and that will only be for a short time. She used to take more than 12 - 15 different medications daily.

"Mollie has recovered from the transplant quicker than we'd expected. We are so excited about her progress," said Ted Moore, M.D., director of Doernbecher's Pediatric Stem Cell Transplant Program. "There is nothing more satisfying than to see Mollie be the little girl she always wanted to be. Her courage to undergo this procedure is a real inspiration for us all and will pave the way for other children with JRA."

Mollie's progress will be closely followed for the next several months. She will continue to visit Doernbecher once a week for the first couple of weeks to monitor her blood count, and once every two to three months she will visit David Sherry, M.D., Mollie's rheumatologist at Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center in Seattle. In addition, she will receive physical therapy three times a week to strengthen the joints and muscles she was never able to use before.