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Slusser fighting for stem cells

Jared Whitley ,Of the Record staff

A lot of kids are out there fighting for their lives, and Laura Slusser, 11, wants to give them bigger boxing gloves. The Ecker Hill International Middle School sixth-grader is among the youngest in the world to receive both a transplanted kidney and pancreas. But many don’t get the necessary transplants, and could benefit from stem-cell research, Laura said. "What I would have thought it would have changed is how it makes me happy for what I have," Laura said. "What I feel more is there are a lot of people who need help. You can feel sorry for someone for what they don’t have, but it doesn’t get them what they need." Laura and her mother, Sherrie Slusser, recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., courtesy of the American Kidney Fund. Earlier this year, Laura won a contest through the kidney fund for a picture she drew of her sister, Mary, while on dialysis. The picture is printed in the kidney fund’s 2006 calendar. "Even if it’s really hard to go through this, I won a trip to Washington, D.C.," Laura said. "And you can’t just do the calendar contest" unless you’re a transplant recipient. While in Washington, Laura visited museums, toured the White House, and saw the main monuments. Reporters with the Washington-area CBS affiliate interviewed Laura about her transplant and stem cell research, and the girl also visited with staffers from Utah’s two senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett who both favor stem cell research. In the winter, Laura says she might get called back for Senate hearings on stem cells. Laura has a "wish" available to her from the Make a Wish foundation. She’s thought about using it to meet President Bush to try to change his mind on opposing stem-cell research, but she’s heard of other kids who are saving their wish for the future when they could go to the moon. "That federal funding is so important," Sherrie said. "Scientists just couldn’t do it without the money." For three years, Laura was a diabetic. In January of this year, Laura’s kidney failed while the Slussers were on a cruise. She had to disembark at the Bahamas to go to the hospital, which didn’t have the resources for pediatric kidney dialysis, so she had to fly to Miami. By July, doctors had found a kidney to transplant into her, and also replaced her pancreas which cured her diabetes. "I feel a little bit bigger around my stomach," Laura said. The Salt Lake Tribune and Wisconsin State Journal have written stories about her experience. While on dialysis, Laura’s diet was restricted, which was compounded by her diabetes. Since the transplant, the only thing she can’t eat is grapefruit which she’s just fine without. The grapefruit would wreck the effects of the auto-immune suppressant drugs she takes. Transplant recipients’ immune systems attack the body’s new organs, which are perceived as foreign bodies, like viruses or bacteria. Doctors prescribe massive amounts of drugs to suppress the immune system after a transplant, and then even more to compensate so the recipient doesn’t get sick. When she first got out of the hospital, Laura had to take 27 pills per day. Now she’s down to 15 which is easier than the insulin she took for diabetes. With refined stem-cell science, Laura and others hope people wouldn’t need to wait for a transplant. "With stem cells, you can take a person’s own natural stem cells and teach them to do other things and create insulin," Laura said. "Growing a new kidney, that’s a bit trickier," Sherrie said. Moreover, stem cell-grown kidneys wouldn’t require invasive surgery, or require drugs to suppress the immune system, the Slussers explained. "There’s still a lot of people who know what I’ve gone through that have to go through it for years before a cure," Laura said. "I was lucky to get one so fast, let alone at all."


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