In 2009, an 8-year old Glenburn boy became the first child in Maine, and one of less than a hundred nationwide, to undergo stem cell therapy to treat his autism.
TV5 has followed the journey of Kenneth Kelley as he travelled to Panama for treatments.
It’s been about two years since his last transfusion.
Joy Hollowell checked in with the now 14-year old to see how he’s doing.
Like most brothers, 16-year old Philip and 14-year old Kenneth Kelley enjoy challenging each other on video games.
“Who is better?
Kenneth points to Philip
Typical teenager is how most would describe Kenneth…something his parents couldn’t be happier to hear.
Kenneth was diagnosed with autism when he was two.
“Many reputable people told us that he should be put in an institution,” explains Donald Kelley, Kenneth’s father. “And that just made us more determined to find a cure for him. We knew there was one out there somewhere, there had to be.”
Like many parents of autistic kids, Donald and Marty Kelley went to numerous doctors and tried countless treatments, including installing a hyperbaric chamber inside their home.
They had read about stem cell therapy. but the clinic was in Panama, and it was still a relatively new therapy.
“Seeing doctors who tell you things that finally after a while you meeting everybody and you say to yourself, well yeah, OK, yeah, I’ve heard this before,” says Donald Kelley, expressing his frustration.
The Kelleys would spend the next two years researching stem cell therapy for autism, including visiting the clinic in Costa Rica.
“This was different,” says Donald Kelley, “this was totally different.”
Kenneth underwent his first cord blood infusion at the age of 8. That very next morning, The Kelleys say they saw a difference. Within a year, Kenneth was reading and communicating. He went back five more times, until the age of 12.
“The improvements that we saw with Kenneth were amazing,” says his father. “To see your child become you know, enjoying life.”
“Before stem cells, he was just off the charts most of the time,” says Kenneth’s brother, Philip. “Screaming, kicking. I don’t remember him ever actually having a conversation with me. He’s gone from more of a person that I had to take care of to a friend.”
8-year old Caroline calls her big brother a dolphin.
“because he’s very playful and he’s very nice and intelligent,” she explains.
“It was a true blessing that he got as far as he did,” says Donald Kelley. “And that he’s where he is today.”
The Kelleys say for now, Kenneth is done with treatments. However, they would consider going back, depending upon their son’s progression.
They tell other parents of autistic kids to never give up.