With the traumatic experience of Tyler's death still fresh in the minds, the young couple took action. They turned their home into a germ-free zone, creating a virtual prison for Mason as they waited for a life-saving transplant. His only playmate: his twin brother, Peyton.
Though Peyton was perfectly healthy, he was also forced to live in isolation. If Peyton played with other children, he could bring home germs which could be deadly to his brother.
At 11 months old, Mason's only outside exposure is a weekly hospital trip to get critical medicine to boost his immune system. The routine is tough on a baby, but it's buying him critical time until his transplant.
At last, the Williamses are given wonderful news. A national search by Kurtzberg's team at Duke University hospital found a match 800 miles away. A new mother donated her baby's umbilical cord blood after delivery. Umbilical cord blood is rich in stem cells and can kick start an immune system like Mason's.
So Joe and Rachel put their lives on hold in a desperate attempt to save their little boy. They quit their jobs, packed up their home, and began the long journey to North Carolina, dreaming of a life for their son that won't end up like their first son's.
Mason’s Grueling Battle Begins
Mason has begun a life or death battle. First, his body is prepped for the transplant with a stiff routine of chemotherapy to kill off his own white blood cells. Any remaining ones could threaten the transplant which will give him a new immune system, Kurtzberg explained.
Kurtzberg says the treatment is a tough ordeal. "Mason is going to receive very high doses in chemotherapy, which can damage his other organs, like his liver or like his lungs. And occasionally that kind of damage is irreversible and a child can die from failure of one of those organs to function." Essentially, the fight to save Mason could end up killing him.
After nine grueling days, Mason's chemotherapy is over. Finally, he is ready for the transplant his parents have dreamed of since the day he was born. His doctors finish the last round of tests and hope for the best.
Mason's hope for life lies in a small bag of precious stem cells extracted from the umbilical cord blood of the donor's newborn baby. It arrives on ice, hand delivered by a courier. The procedure Mason will undergo is experimental, having been performed only about 40 times.
The umbilical cord blood is attached to an I.V., and the life-giving stem cells slowly begin to flow into Mason's body. The procedure takes only 15 minutes — a year of praying and waiting is over.
Five weeks later, the Williamses get the news. It's both a prayer answered and an amazing medical success. Mason's new white blood cells are growing and he's able to leave the hospital to continue his recovery back at the apartment.
Back to Indiana
Months later, Mason is getting stronger and has passed the point where his brother Tyler lost his battle to "bubble boy syndrome." It's time to go home to Indiana.
Now 18 months old, the boys have grown into toddlers. Joe goes back to work so he can support his family. But Mason is still too sick to leave the safety of home.