Young 'superhero' battling sickle cell disease gets transplant

Young 'superhero' battling sickle cell disease gets bone marrow transplant

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Keith McKenzie, Jr. also known as KJ for short Keith McKenzie, Jr. also known as KJ for short
(WJBK) -

UPDATE DEC. 5: KJ and his little brother are recovering and doing well. Doctors say they were able to get enough viable stem cells to give KJ a surplus for 10 years. He will be in the hospital for the next four to six weeks. It will be about a year before the family will know if the transplant was a partial or complete success.

LINK: For more information on KJ's battle, and to donate to help cover medical costs: http://www.gofundme.com/5gb12s

BELOW IS THE STORY ABOUT HIS TRANSPLANT THE DAY BEFORE THE SURGERY

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Just looking at 5-year-old KJ McKenzie you wouldn't guess he's just been through eight days of grueling chemotherapy.

"His bone marrow transplant is tomorrow. The chemotherapy that he had is as intense as any chemotherapy we give. And how did he act? He just spent the entire eight days running around the ward. Nine out of ten adults would be laying face down in this bed. This guy doesn't let it get him down," says Dr. Greg Yanik, a pediatric oncologist.

We first met the superhero fanatic almost a year ago when he was undergoing weekly blood transfusion for Sickle cell anemia, a painful disorder that blocks healthy blood flow to vital organs, muscles and tissues. Sickle cell causes life-threatening complications. Most with the disease don't live to 60.

KJ's doctors said he wasn't a candidate for a bone marrow transplant. It's risky but the most effective treatment. But after our report in February viewers urged KJ's family to get a second opinion.

"She told me, as a parent, if her mother had an opportunity to cure her and did not cure her - she would never forgive her," says Tamiko McKenzie, KJ's mother. "KJ was already experiencing silent strokes. His heart valve was enlarged. So all of those things were uncovered after coming here."

"There's approximately 100,000 Americans in the U.S. that are affected with sickle cell. It affects about one out of every 500 African American children in the United States. For those children, it's an incredible life of ups and downs that they face," says Dr. Yanik.

He is KJ's doctor at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital in Ann Arbor where they perform 250 bone marrow transplants every year. Thursday little KJ will be one of them, getting bone marrow getting drilled from the hip of his 3-year-old brother, Carson.

KJ Is lucky to have a match. There are more than 10 million people waiting for a bone marrow transplant. The test - a simple swab of the cheek, but people just don't do it.

"For patients like KJ, we need more minority donors," says Dr. Yanik. "Our ability to help these children with sickle cell is really dependent on our ability to get individuals into that registry."

"They have given us a chance for a new life, a normal life, a better quality of life for KJ, that we never thought we would have," says Tamiko. "It's a big deal because I'll have two children in the hospital."

If the surgery is a success KJ can look forward to playing outside and chasing his friends, the normal kid stuff he couldn't do before. His superhero family can take a day off.

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