State-mandated test at birth identified fatal disease
By Megan Loiselle
Wausau Daily Herald
EDGAR — A 1-year-old Edgar boy has become the first child in the world to be saved from a fatal immunodeficiency disease, just months after Wisconsin became the only state to test for it at birth.
Dawson Bornheimer’s family on Sept. 25 celebrated the first anniversary of a lifesaving bone marrow transplant that treated his Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or SCID — also known as “bubble boy disease.” The disease is fatal if not treated in the first few months of life.
The state’s pilot program for the screening was funded in part by the Jeffrey Modell Foundation, established by Vicki and Fred Modell in memory of their son who died at age 15. Dawson was honored as the “man of the year” by the foundation at a gala this spring in New York. The screening now is routine for the estimated 70,000 births in the state annually.
“They caught it, and because of that, we get to play with you every day,” his mother, Melissa Bornheimer, said during an interview at her home, as she patted Dawson’s leg.
Twelve days after Dawson was born on June 12, 2008, the Bornheimers received a call saying he had failed the test for SCID — a test they didn’t even know he had been given.
Melissa said at first she thought the test had to be wrong because Dawson seemed fine.
Hours after the call, the Bornheimers took Dawson to the hospital with a fever. He was released with what doctors said was a viral infection. Days later, his belly button became infected so badly that it had to be removed at a hospital in Madison.
In a span of a few weeks in August, Dawson was checked into the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee for a blood transfusion as well as surgeries to remove abscesses growing on his neck and to fix a hole in his trachea. Test results showed his bone marrow wasn’t producing white blood cells strong enough to attack infections in his body. The only cure would be a bone marrow transplant.
On Sept. 25, 2008, he received the transplant, with marrow donated from a baby in Germany. Some of Dawson’s vital organs shut down as his body struggled to adjust to the donor’s marrow, but Melissa said his body eventually accepted the bone marrow.
One year after the transplant, Dawson still has 100 percent of his donor’s bone marrow, which means chemotherapy he received last year was successful in eradicating all of his own bone marrow.
Melissa, 35, said the couple had great health insurance through Mike’s work as a material handler at Wausau Supply Co. It allowed the family to focus on Dawson rather than worrying about his $1 million in treatment costs.
Today, Dawson often crawls around the floor and plays at home with his 9-year-old brother, Dylan. Dawson will start walking soon.
His grandmother Ione Bornheimer of Athens said every time she and her husband, Harvey, visit, they see more improvements.
“He’s making big strides,” she said. “It has been very hard on the family but he’s our little miracle baby.”
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