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Twin, 6, in isolation unit after marrow transplant

Jessica Buttner, left, with her twin sister, Julianna,

Jessica Buttner, left, with her twin sister, Julianna, who has a rare form of leukemia. Their family decided to have Jessica serve as a bone-marrow donor after no match was found among more than 2,600 people who volunteered to be tested. (Jan. 7, 2010) Credit: Newsday / Mahala Gaylord

Julianna Buttner, the Farmingville 6-year-old who has been battling leukemia, is in an isolation unit at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan after receiving lifesaving bone marrow from her twin sister.

"She's happy it's over and she said she hopes her cells are doing a good job," her father, Michael Buttner, said Friday.

Julianna underwent the transplant - an infusion of healthy bone marrow - on Thursday. She will remain in isolation for at least three weeks, Michael Buttner said, until doctors are certain her new stem cells, the key constituents infused in the transplant, have begun seeding a healthy new immune system and blood supply.

The child's plight has tugged the heartstrings of hundreds since late last year. The weekend after Thanksgiving, nearly 2,700 strangers lined up at the Farmingville Fire Station at a bone marrow drive designed to find a person who could donate for the transplant.

When the search turned up empty, doctors turned to Julianna's twin, Jessica, who has a medical issue of her own: type 1 diabetes.

Having scanned Julianna's cells for a host of molecular factors that could spell trouble, Dr. Farid Boulad, medical director at Sloan-Kettering's Pediatric Day Hospital, said Julianna's results were negative in each category, suggesting the potential for a bright outcome.

"We came to transplant in the best shape possible," he said.

Diagnosed in 2006 with acute lymphocytic leukemia - ALL - Julianna relapsed in September. Her increasingly fragile condition, doctors say, drove the need for a transplant.

Dr. Davina Prakash, Julianna's physician at Stony Brook University Medical Center, said the transplant was vital. "There was no guarantee we would eradicate the leukemia with chemo alone," she explained.

ALL is the most common pediatric cancer. "Children with ALL today have a very good prognosis. Of [every] 100 kids diagnosed with ALL, 75 will be cured, so we have come a long way," Boulad said.

Julianna's father can't wait until his daughter is out of isolation, but understands the importance of her care. "She's on antibiotics and fluids. That's what she's relying on right now to keep her alive," Buttner said.

Because the child's immune system was obliterated in the regimen of radiation and chemotherapy that prepared her for the transplant, she has no defenses against microorganisms.

"We're not even allowing grandparents or anyone to visit right now," Buttner said of the rules he and his wife Lynda have imposed. "We have to wear masks."

But, he adds, Julianna will have a surprise in a few weeks when her sister can visit and bring her a new Barbie doll.

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