December 14, 2012

Emma W.

Emma Whitehead

In case anyone was wondering, the argument here is not that ALL technologies are bad. 

Earlier this week the New York Times reported an amazing medical achievement. 

Emma Whitehead, a seven-year-old girl from Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, was dying from acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Two rounds of chemotherapy had failed. Time was running out. 

In desperation her parents approved a radical new therapy. Doctors at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia "reprogrammed" Emma's immune system by genetically altering some of her blood cells with a disabled form of the virus that causes AIDs. The reprogrammed cells, injected back into Emma's body, had been turned into super cancer fighters. They attacked and killed the cells that were causing her leukemia. 

Emma almost didn't survive the process, which takes a terrible toll on the body. Now, however, she's thriving.

This treatment is about as high tech as you can get (read the article for details on how complicated it is) – there's nothing natural about it. Nor is it going to become widely available without someone finding a way to make a profit on it, meaning some patients will get the treatment and others won't. And yes, the health-care system in general is desperately in need of reform, and yes, there are big-picture questions about our obsessive use of technologies to prolong life at any cost. 

But forget all that for now. Emma Whitehead, second grader, is alive and well, reading voraciously and loving recess.

Who can argue with that? 

Photo credit:Jeff Swensen, The New York Times 

©Doug Hill, 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment