The way is clear for Ho Young Jeon to get a tricky but potentially life-saving bone marrow transplant in Columbia.
Late Wednesday, Georgia Medicaid gave approval for the 6-year-old boy stricken with leukemia to undergo the procedure at Palmetto Richland Memorial Hospital.
After weeks of desperately searching across the country and in Korea for a suitable donor, Ho Young's doctors at Medical College of Georgia Children's Medical Center feared his remission wouldn't last and a relapse would prevent him from getting the transplant. He has a condition called Philadelphia chromosome that makes chemotherapy less effective and a transplant his only real chance, said Dick Suh, pediatric hematologist/oncologist at MCG. Though Ho Young's mother, Bun Sun, has only four of the six characteristics that must match up or risk his body rejecting the new marrow, doctors are pushing ahead with her.
And that is why MCG, which does not yet have a pediatric marrow transplant program, chose Palmetto Richland, Dr. Suh said.
"They are known nationwide for doing high-risk transplants," Dr. Suh said.
Palmetto Richland and the associated University of South Carolina School of Medicine have done more of these types of transplants, known as mismatches, than anyone else in the world, said pediatric hematologist/oncologist Jean Henslee-Downey, director of the Division of Transplantation Medicine. They have done 385 mismatched procedures and are averaging 70-80 a year with patients from as far away as Asia and Europe, Dr. Henslee-Downey said.
"I cannot underscore enough this issue of experience," she said, enabling the transplant team to more quickly spot complications and head them off. A study done there a few years ago found that the outcomes of the mismatches was identical to the more compatible matches, Dr. Henslee-Downey said.
Georgia Medicaid's policy is usually to insist that a procedure be done in-state if the service is available, unless there is a compelling reason to send the patient elsewhere, Medicaid Division Director Gary Redding said Monday. There is a bone marrow transplant program at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston but they passed on Ho Young's case, said Joyce Goldberg, spokeswoman for the Department of Community Health, which oversees Medicaid.
"What I understand they said was, due to some changes they are not taking this particular kind of case," she said.
It was a relief for Dr. Suh because the approval was the only thing holding up the transplant.
"I'll have to call and see when they can take them," Dr. Suh said.
Mrs. Jeon's summed up her feelings very simply.
"Thank you," she said.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213.