Since returning home from having stem cell treatments in China last month, five-year-old Rylan Johnstone has taken his first unaided steps, given his first hug, spoken his first complete sentence and shown his first reaction to light — much to the delight of his family.
“We are absolutely overjoyed with the changes we’ve noticed already,” said Rylan’s grandma Alison. “Even if that’s all that happens, it was definitely worth it to go, but I think there are more changes to come.”
The family spent nearly a year fundraising more than $34,000 for the trip to China to have the stem cell treatments done in the hope that Rylan, who is blind and autistic, would gain some sight and mobility and benefit from reduced autism symptoms.
It seems much of that wish list has come true just weeks after returning from China, and the stem cells will keep working, Alison said.
“The stem cell injections in his eyes should keep working for at least six months,” she said, noting one report from a parent showed a child gaining sight a year after the stem cell treatments.
Rylan seems to squint now when a bright light is put before him, and although he can’t communicate what’s happening, the Johnstones are hopeful he’ll show more signs of sight in the weeks to come.
One of the best moments for Alison was when she got her first hug from her grandson, shortly after returning home.
“He’s never done that before. He doesn’t cling at all,” Alison said. “I teared up.”
Then one day he spoke his first sentence, “Daddy, where are you?”
“We couldn’t believe it. It was the first time he had ever asked an actual question and made sense,” Alison said.
Other improvements like walking while holding just one hand or letting go altogether for a moment were visible immediately after having the stem cell treatments.
Every small improvement is a big deal to the Johnstones.
“To others it may seem little, but to us it’s like climbing a mountain,” Alison noted.
In total, Rylan had eight stem cell treatments while in China, three lumbar injections, three intravenous treatments and two ocular injections.
The family is hopeful the stem cells will continue to work and eventually lead to some sight for Rylan.
The Johnstones meet with their ophthalmologist in April to have Rylan’s eyesight tested.
Alison said the family is forever indebted to the Coast community for giving so generously to fundraisers to make Rylan’s treatment possible and she intends to continue updating Rylan’s blog at www.rylansfightforsight.blogspot.ca to keep everyone who gave informed of the young boy’s progress.
“We are so thankful. We can never pay it back. We can only pay it forward,” she added.