Rowan Loran came into this world just like any other child. But when he was around six months old, his parents discovered something wasn’t quite right.
As new parents learn quickly, infants often are not aware of their own strength. Rowan was no exception: he’d bash his toys against his legs, producing odd bruises on his skin. His parents didn’t think much of it at first because his mother, Kirsten, has a family history of low blood platelets.
Once Rowan turned one, however, he became more active and the bruises appeared abnormally large.
When Rowan was around 15 months old, he contracted norovirus, which causes severe vomiting and diarrhea. But when his parents saw blood appearing in his stool they took him to the Emergency Department at their local hospital, Victoria General Hospital. Over the following 11 days, doctors kept hoping his platelet level would rise, but it never did, Kirsten recalls.
Doctors had their suspicions about Rowan’s condition, but it took nearly four months to confirm the worst fears of Kirsten and Rowan’s father Chris. Rowan had Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, a rare genetic immunodeficiency disorder.
Platelets are required for blood to clot, but Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome inhibits Rowan’s bone marrow from producing enough platelets. If he gets a small bonk on the head, for example, it can become a giant goose egg, with the potential to cause internal bleeding. The only cure is a bone marrow transplant.
“I was shown the basic information about the disorder and I knew right then it had to be correct,” said Kirsten. “It described exactly what my mom’s brother had his entire life and died from — my uncle had no diagnosis.”
Rowan and Kirsten lived in BC Children’s Hospital for two months while Rowan underwent the bone marrow transplant; the family stayed in Vancouver for two more months while Rowan received treatment as an outpatient.
“I was alone with Rowan the majority of the time, and that was so hard,” Kirsten recalls. “Chris was only able to stay with us for four weeks, through the worst part right at the beginning.”
The first few weeks of a bone marrow transplant are often the most tumultuous, and Rowan had several complications. His heart rate and respirations skyrocketed; doctors warned his organs could fail if that continued. Fortunately, that never happened.
Once Rowan’s chimerism (which indicates the percentage of the donor’s cells versus Rowan’s own cells) came back at more than 90 per cent, doctors knew the transplant had been a success.
Rowan is now on the road to recovery, but he will continue to be monitored by doctors, even as an adult. Kirsten says it shouldn’t deter her “spunky, talkative kid” from enjoying a normal life.
“I hope he can have the life we had dreamed for him to have when he was a newborn, when we didn't know anything was wrong,” says Kirsten.
“Once we got his diagnosis, we gave up on the freedoms he could have. Now that he has new marrow and new blood, we hope he can pursue whatever makes him happy. I want him to have the health and the life my uncle never got.”