Baby with Rare Autoimmune Disease Seeks Stem Cell Donor

Boston De Castro smiles while in care of the Children's Hosptial
Boston De Castro has a rare autoimmune blood disease called HLH, and he desperately needs a matching stem cell donor to save his life.

A three-month old baby boy named Boston De Castro from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada is seeking a stem cell donor.

Boston suffers from a rare autoimmune disease called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, known as HLH for short. According to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, HLH is a life-threatening autoimmune condition in which the immune system’s T and NK cells become overactive, causing damaging inflammation to the body’s tissues and internal organs. The condition is especially damaging to the liver, brain and bone marrow, where blood is made.

Symptoms of HLH include persistent fevers, rash, enlarged liver and spleen, anemia, low platelets and white blood cells, jaundice, hepatitis, liver failure, respiratory issues, seizures, and altered mental functions. Patients need to undergo blood transfusions, stem cell therapy and a bone marrow transplant, in addition to taking various medications to calm the immune system, including steroids and chemotherapy.

Boston first started experiencing symptoms only a few weeks ago, when he developed a fever, and then his liver and spleen became enlarged. Shortly after, his blood counts started dropping rapidly. This is when he received a bone marrow biopsy, and was diagnosed with HLH. The three-month-old is currently undergoing his first round of chemotherapy while his parents desperately seek a stem cell donor that can save his life. The added challenge, however, is finding a matching stem cell donor that is of mixed ethnicity like him – half-Caucasian and half-Filipino.

His mother, Simone Janetta, spoke to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), saying, “We are just begging the community. Anybody who is half-Filipino [and] half-Caucasian, even if you’re any other ethnic minority, just get on the stem cell registry. You could safe a life, just like our son’s.”

Simone Janetta with her son Boston De Castro
Boston’s mother, Simon Janettta, holds her son while her undergoes chemotherapy. Their family is living in hospital to ensure Boston receives round-the-clock medical care.

Her plea was heard not only by the CBC, but by the Prime Minister of Canada himself, Justin Trudeau, who took to social media to share Boston’s story. “Can you save Boston’s life? There are two ways you can help: If you’re half-Caucasian and half-Filipino, please reach out to Canadian Blood Services and see how you can become a stem cell donor. If you aren’t you can still share this story and spread the word.” The post has received over 23,000 likes and 11,000 shares on Facebook already.

Donors must be between 17-35 years of age, with a preference for males, to reduce post-transplant complications. According to the Canadian Blood Services, only 3.5% of stem cell donors in the database are of mixed ethnic background. Because HLH is believed to be genetic, the donor must be unrelated to Boston as well.

Boston’s father, Rex De Castro, added, “I’m kindly begging anyone with a mixed-race ethnicity to donate their stem cells to help my son survive. The chemotherapy and the steroids [are] a temporary fix, and he needs the stem cell transplant really bad.”

Rex De Castro holds his two children
Rex De Castro, Boston’s dad, cuddles his 2-year-old daughter, Beatrix and newborn son, Boston. Both Beatrix and Boston suffer from rare health conditions.

A GoFundMe page has been setup for Boston, which has garnered over $25,000 in donations thus far. The donated funds will be used to relieve some of the monetary stress associated with the De Castro family having to live in hospital, and also, towards the bone marrow match. Many people have posted encouraging words on Boston’s GoFundMe page, urging him and his family to stay strong.

To learn more about HLH, check out this YouTube video by the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. To read more about Boston De Castro’s story, check out his story on the CBC news website. And, if you know anyone who could potentially be a stem cell match for Boston or other mixed ethnicity patients, please consider sharing this story with them; you could save a life.

Pro Tennis Player Caroline Wozniacki Describes Battle with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Caroline Wozniacki, a professional Danish tennis player, found herself embroiled in a match against her own immune system

From Grand Slam Champion to Bedridden

Caroline Wozniacki, a professional tennis player and Grand Slam champion from Denmark, was at the top of her game in 2018. At 27 years old, she had just finished playing in the Wimbledon, when she found herself feeling extremely ill.

“After Wimbledon, I just feel like I had the flu and wasn’t feeling well. I took some time off from tennis and training in the gym and was just going to relax, but I wasn’t feeling better. So I decided to go back to training and to see what happens,” the now 30-year-old tells Health in an exclusive interview.

She continued to play in tournaments across North America, but only continued to feel worse, and ended up having to withdraw from the Washington Open in Washington, DC as a result. “Day to day, I felt exhausted and was dizzy on the court,” Wozniacki explained. “I also had pain in some joints.”

Unbeknownst to fans, Carolina Wozniacki was battling an undiagnosed autoimmune disease through the later part of her tennis career

At the next tournament—the Rogers Cup in Montreal—Wozniacki was devastated to lose her first-round match. She put the loss behind her, though, and decided to focus her energy on preparing for her next match in Cincinnati. The following morning, however, Wozniacki couldn’t even move her arms or hands.

“I was in so much pain and felt exhausted. I went to see a doctor, because I felt extreme pain in my shoulders, elbows and hands,” she recalls. Her joints were swollen, but since her doctor didn’t see any damage to her ligaments, she chalked her pain up to her demanding travel schedule and athletic regimen. Strangely enough, her vocal cords were also inflamed and her voice became raspy.

Her symptoms continued to worsen, and because doctors couldn’t determine the cause, “They said, ‘Maybe you’re in bad shape. Maybe it’s mental. Maybe you’re pregnant.’ They basically called me crazy,” Wozniacki said. She found it extremely frustrating, especially considering she was in tip-top shape and had just won the Australian Open and a Grand Slam title the year prior. “I was 27 years old and the number two tennis player in the world. I’m in great shape and eat well. I do all the right things,” she lamented.

She insisted on getting multiple blood tests and consulting with various specialists. Finally, it was when she visited the fifth doctor in New York City, that it was discovered through a blood test that she had an autoimmune disease. However, it wasn’t clear which autoimmune condition she had. After a series of additional tests, she was finally diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease affecting one’s joints.

Life After an Autoimmune Diagnosis

After being diagnosed with RA, Wozniacki is determined to live a full life

Wozniacki says that to her knowledge, she has no family history of RA or any other autoimmune disease. From what she understands, the condition could have been triggered due to her exhaustion and her immune system being compromised. Now, she keeps her RA symptoms under control through conventional pharmaceutical treatments, combined with lifestyle tips like consuming a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet and maintaining a consistent exercise routine. She also believes in getting enough quality sleep and avoiding stress in order to prevent arthritis flares.

Though the diagnosis was shocking, Wozniacki was determined to continue playing tennis, and even went on to play in the US Open and the China Open, where she won one of her biggest tournaments. She has since retired from playing tennis professionally, and now works to encourage other women living with chronic inflammatory diseases to share their stories through the Advantage Hers campaign.

Wozniacki describes her struggle with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) as part of the Advantage Hers campaign.

“It takes a long time for a lot of women to get diagnosed, and a lot of doctors don’t take their symptoms seriously at first because autoimmune diseases aren’t on a lot of doctors’ radars. I want women to know that if they have pain in the joints and feel exhausted, they should talk to their doctors about getting tested for RA or other autoimmune diseases,” she says.

Finally, Wozniacki credits her family for helping her to get through the difficulties of living with a chronic invisible illness. That being said, she also believes it’s important to connect with others living with the disease; “I really think it’s important to be able to speak to other people going through the same thing you are. It really makes a difference,” she said.

To learn more about Carolina Wozniacki’s journey with RA, check out the Advantage Hers campaign and share your own story on social media with the hashtag #AdvantageHers.