Health

After Childhood Cancer Diagnosis, Donor Bone Marrow from Little Sister Sends it into Remission


Sisters Mabel Leaning, left, and Ruby Leaning hold hands in the hospital. The younger sister saved the older one with a bone marrow transplant. (Amanda Fawcett via SWNS)

A young girl in the English city of Sheffield has seen her rare blood cancer go into complete remission, and she has her even younger sister to thank for it.

Diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in 2020 at age 6 after collapsing in the school playground, the family was desperate for donor stem cells from bone marrow to treat the rare form of the disease.

Remarkably, it was none other than 6-year-old Ruby Leaning’s 2-year-old sister, Mabel, who came up as a perfect match and was able to donate her bone marrow to keep Ruby alive and treat her cancer.

It was a long and difficult road that involved scares and good fortune. Ruby’s grandmother, Amanda Fawcett, spoke to SWNS about how difficult it was.

“It’s every parent’s nightmare… I was in the room with her mom when we found out, and you just can’t take anything in at all. It was all just heart-shattering,” she said.

Typically, ALL is treatable with just chemotherapy, but the kind which Ruby had been diagnosed with required a bone marrow transplant in addition.

“When Ruby’s leukemia did not respond well to chemotherapy, she received a relatively new drug called blinatumomab, which got her leukemia into remission and allowed us to perform her bone marrow transplant.”

Blinatumomab, or “blina” as it’s affectionately called for short, is a gentler chemotherapy and immunotherapy drug that has cured children of cancers with significantly less pain and despair than heavier chemo treatments.

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Blina is a kind of targeted therapy drug called a bispecific T-cell engager (BiTE). It’s administered via a pump and plastic bag through a tube inserted into the patient’s arm. The bag is carried around in a slim backpack, and the supply lasts a few days.

Ruby Leaning, pictured in the hospital in 2020

When the blina was initially successful, Ruby’s medical staff began to look for donors.

“We [weren’t] expecting [Mabel] to be a match at first, but thankfully she was, so we just couldn’t believe our luck,” Fawcett told Fox News. “It was amazing – we were so thankful.”

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Declared cancer-free in 2022, the family says that because Mabel has come to realize what she did for her sister, she asks to “borrow” nearly everything of Ruby’s, but Fawcett said it’s all “fun and games.”

“She’s a happy, normal, and healthy 10-year-old who loves swimming, dancing, and piano lessons,” she said of the girl.

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