For 7-year-old with failing bone marrow, a life-saving transplant

Ikkei Takeuchi suffered from unexplained bone marrow failure. But with the help of his little brother and doctors at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, he’s on the road to recovery.

- By Amy Brooks

Ikkei (left) with his brother and bone marrow donor, Senshu, at Packard Children’s Hospital.
Chris Gebhardt

Seven-year-old Ikkei Takeuchi likes to say he has two birthdays: the day in April when he was born, and the day in July when he got a whole new blood system.

Ikkei was living in Japan when he started experiencing fevers and nosebleeds and lost a lot of his usual energy, according to his parents, Shojiro and Natsuko Takeuchi. When the family moved to the Bay Area and the symptoms still hadn’t improved, Ikkei’s pediatrician referred him to the Bass Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Diseases at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford to find out why.

That’s where he met Bertil Glader, MD, PhD, a pediatric hematologist.

“My first impression of Ikkei was that he was as cute as can be, and he only got cuter the more I got to know him,” recalled Glader, professor of pediatrics at the School of Medicine.

Glader tested Ikkei’s blood and found that it didn’t have enough of three types of cells: platelets, which are necessary to prevent bleeding; red blood cells, which carry oxygen; and white blood cells, which help fight infections.

It was clear that Ikkei’s bone marrow was failing. Despite running every test in the book, Ikkei’s doctors couldn’t figure out exactly why this was happening, making Ikkei one of a rare group of kids with unexplained bone marrow failure. One thing was clear, however: Ikkei’s bone marrow wasn’t repairing itself. Instead, it was starting to show signs of increased stress.

The dwindles

“We gave Ikkei occasional blood transfusions to keep his energy levels up, but he was going through what we call ‘the dwindles,’ when his blood counts continue to get worse. We knew it was time for a bone marrow transplant,” Glader said.

Bone marrow transplantation would replace Ikkei’s defective bone marrow, which would allow Ikkei to make new blood cells, give him more energy, stop his frequent nosebleeds and help him better fight infections. Ikkei was lucky to find a perfect donor match in his 4-year-old brother, Senshu.

Bertil Glader with Ikkei, who received a bone marrow transfusion.
Chris Gebhardt

“Since Senshu is 4 years old, he didn’t understand everything that was going on. But we told him, ‘You can help your older brother,’ and he understood that,” Natsuko, the boys’ mother, said. “He never said he didn’t want to go to the hospital, and he never cried, either.”

Even with a perfect donor match, a bone marrow transplant is a serious procedure. Shojiro said the hospital staff worked to help ease the family’s fears.

“When we were told Ikkei needed to have a bone marrow transplant, we felt we would face a very, very, very hard time. We could not imagine how difficult it would be,” Shojiro recalled. “However, the doctors explained everything to us so we could make the right decision. And everyone at the hospital was so supportive and gave us energy. They helped us get rid of our anxiety around unfamiliar medical terminology and made boring hospital days happy for Ikkei.”

Ikkei’s bone marrow transplant — overseen by Sandeep Soni, MD, clinical associate professor of pediatrics, and aided by Agnieszka Czechowicz, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics, and the stem cell transplant team — went smoothly.

“His blood counts are back to normal, and he’s continuing to recover and build out a healthy immune system,” Czechowicz said.

Energy and ice cream

Ikkei was able to return home a few weeks after his transplant. His parents say he already has more energy and is eating all of his favorite foods, including ice cream.

“He was very excited to be home. He was playing with his younger brother, running around and sweating,” Natsuko said. “We were worried he would have a fever again, but he didn’t. He just acted like a normal kid.”

Ikkei is excited to spend more time playing basketball and football. He’s a huge fan of the Golden State Warriors and the San Francisco 49ers.

For his parents, the transplant represents a new chapter in Ikkei’s life.

“He had a lot of restrictions before the treatment,” Natsuko said. “Whenever he had a fever, he wasn’t able to do anything and had to save energy. In the future, I’d like him to do things he likes. He can act like a healthy, normal child.”

Between the move and the transplant, it has been a whirlwind few years for the family. They are looking forward to calmer times ahead.

“We moved from Japan, and Ikkei received treatment in the United States, so he thinks he was saved by the United States,” Shojiro said. “He really likes this country. We believe Ikkei is healthy now thanks to all the support we got from the hospital, and we’re so thankful to the staff.”

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