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Medical miracle – Born to save her big brother

One mum shares her life-changing story

Brenda’s baby girl changed her brother’s life forever.

Here, Brenda Munz, 34, from Perth, WA, shares the story in her own words.

Our little boy Brodie looked so cute. 

At nine months, he’d started commando crawling. 

But now, as my hubby, Ben, and I watched him shuffle across the floor on his tummy, I noticed Brodie was using the right side of his body, but not his left. His strength didn’t seem equal. 

He was already booked in for a routine check-up with a nurse, so I told her about it. 

‘I wouldn’t worry too much, he’s still moving,’ she said. 

When Brodie reached 15 months, he could stand, but he could only take a few steps if he was holding  
onto furniture. And he was always stumbling on his left side. 

I phoned my doctor. 

‘It’s not the fact that he can’t walk, my worry is the way he’s moving,’ I said. 

‘He’s just taking his time. Come back when he’s 22 months,’ he said. 

I couldn’t shake the niggling feeling though. 

Even when Brodie used a stroller to walk, his left leg wouldn’t bend. 

Ben and I took him to a physio, who said Brodie was moving similarly to a stroke victim. 

‘You need a diagnosis,’ he said. 

So we took our boy to a neurologist who referred him for an MRI. 

Unbelievably, the results confirmed Brodie had suffered a stroke while he was still in my tummy. 

‘As a result, he’s been left with cerebral palsy,’ the neurologist said. 

I cried all the way home. 

Would Brodie have to be in a wheelchair? 

Brodie and Zoey
Zoey was here for a reason

Over the next few months, he had play-based therapy, such as catching a ball with two hands.  

The therapist would demonstrate using two hands, but Brodie would still only use his right one. 

As he grew, his struggles became more apparent. 

And at times, it was obvious he was in pain. 

Unable to dress himself, Ben or I would have to lift up his left arm to put it through the sleeve. 

He couldn’t feed himself or hold a plate. Then, when he was two, I discovered I was pregnant again. 

We hadn’t planned to have a second bub so soon, and this time my morning sickness was constant. 

‘We’re taking you to hospital,’ Ben insisted when I was seven weeks along. 

While in the waiting room,I noticed a leaflet about a stem cell trial. 

Stem cell treatment is a regenerative therapy that has the potential to encourage brain repair for cerebral palsy patients. It’s currently illegal in Australia for most conditions, including cerebral palsy, but, reading the leaflet, my heart soared.  

While the law restricts it from being openly offered, a clinic in Melbourne was doing a trial of stem cell treatment using cells from umbilical cord blood.  

It involved taking the blood from a sibling’s umbilical cord. The child with cerebral palsy would then receive an infusion. 

Welling up, I showed the leaflet to Ben. 

‘There’s a reason why this baby is here,’ he gasped. 

Phoning the trial company, they explained the process. 

When our baby was born, a sample of their cells would be taken. 

Ben, Brodie, Zoey and Brenda Munz
Ben, Brodie, Zoey and me

‘We’ll see if they’re a match with Brodie,’ they said. 

But they warned us the trial was small – they only needed 12 people. 

Our bub wasn’t due for seven months, but I had a feeling it would work out. 

On May 8, little Zoey arrived perfectly healthy. 

After she was detached from the umbilical cord, a nurse took a blood sample from Zoey’s cord and the placenta. 

Then I called the company to tell them. 

‘We already have six people on the trial and a fewpeople ahead of you on the waiting list,’ the lady warned me. ‘Your chances are low.’ 

But I stayed positive. 

Meanwhile, Brodie doted on little Zoey. 

‘This is my sister,’ he’d say, never leaving her side. 

Zoey has changed her big brother's life
Zoey has changed her big brother’s life

Four months later, the phone rang. 

Zoey was a match – and Brodie would be the 11th person on the trial! 

‘Zoey’s blood is going to help the hurt in your hand and leg,’ I told Brodie. 

‘Okay Mummy,’ he smiled. 

Over a few hours, Zoey’s stem cells were transferred to Brodie through his arm. 

Just two weeks after the infusion, we saw a change. 

Ben and I were watching Brodie play with his toys at the coffee table, when we realised that he was picking them up using both his hands! 

‘Amazing!’ I cried.  

Brodie also learned how to support himself when he walked. And things like going to the bathroom or feeding himself became possible too. 

He was gaining independence. 

Now nearly four, Brodie is at school and on par with his peers. 

It’s incredible to see how he’s progressed. He still does therapy, including swimming and martial arts to keep up his strength. 

Best of all, Brodie understands what his sister did for him.  

‘Zoey made me strong,’ he tells people. 

We’re very lucky that Brodie gained a place on the clinical trial. 

There is no doubt that Zoey arrived to help her big brother and it’s something we’ll forever be grateful for. 

I want other families to also have this incredible experience. ● 

The campaign 

Research shows that umbilical cord blood treatment is safe and improves walking and movement in children with cerebral palsy. Yet this treatment is still illegal in Australia for most conditions.  

Families can only access umbilical cord blood treatment in Australia in a clinical trial. Meanwhile, 40,000 donated umbilical cord blood samples are sitting in storage, which could be accessed and enable treatment to many more Australians in need.  

While umbilical cord blood is not approved for cerebral palsy locally, desperate families are buying stem cells from private clinics overseas – an expensive venture that comes with an extensive list of risks. 

Cerebral Palsy Alliance said parents are calling on this ‘archaic legislation’ to be updated so umbilical cord blood can be available in Australia to treat conditions such as cerebral palsy. Together with families, they have launched a campaign. 

For more information, here here.  

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