Success Stories: Keone Penn

Keone Penn was the first person to be cured of sickle cell anemia through cord blood stem cell treatment. He lived to be 27 despite many health problems throughout his childhood.

Keone was born with severe sickle cell anemia and had a stroke when he was only five years old. During his childhood, Keone went through multiple blood transfusions to increase his red blood cell count and keep him alive. Even after constant treatments, Keone developed bone, joint and kidney problems.

While doctors considered using a bone marrow implant from Keone’s sister, she was considered a “mismatched” donor, and a bone marrow transplant wouldn’t work. Andrew Yaeger, Keone’s doctor, decided to try a stem cell transplant using umbilical cord blood from an unrelated donor. This was the first treatment using cord blood for sickle cell disease.

Keone went through nine days of chemotherapy at the AFLAC Cancer Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. This eliminated cancerous cells in Keone’s body, and allowed doctors to administer stem cells from a donated cord blood unit. His transplant took place on December 11, 1998.

Nine months later after several months of repeat visits, Keone was diagnosed with graft-versus-host disease, which meant his transplanted cells were attacking his body. However, the side effects eventually receded, and Keone’s body started producing healthy blood cells, and successfully fought off outside infections. One year after the transplant, doctors officially announced the good news – Keone was cured. He was the first person to be cured of sickle cell by a cord blood stem cell treatment.

After his transplant, Keone became an advocate for cord blood banking. Although he was cured of his anemia and went on to live a happy and fulfilling life for years, he tragically passed away from other issues on June 20th, 2013.

Find out more about the benefits of cord blood here.

National Cord Blood Program