Dylan Cain
A year ago this month, Dylan Cain could toss a plastic ball with great speed, but he couldn't tell his mother, Jinger, what color it was. After being infused with his own banked stem cells at the Duke University Medical School and making 120 "dives" in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber in Bend, 5-year-old Dylan can identify colors and his vocabulary has increased from an estimated 30 words to about 300. (Alex Paul/Democrat-Herald)

Last May, 5-year-old New York Yankees fan Dylan Cain had a vocabulary of about 30 words.

He loved to talk about Tigger or Eeyore from Winnie-the-Pooh lore and he knew his name was Dylan, but beyond that, conversations with his parents, Mark and Jinger Cain, were pretty much one-sided.

Today, Dylan can tell you that he's playing with a ball - which he can hurl with great speed and accuracy - and that it is yellow, red or blue.

He can tell his parents to turn off the light in his bedroom and even reaches for the switch on his own.

And he prefers to be called "Shark Bait," the nickname given to the animated fish Nemo in the popular children's movie.

In May 2009, Dylan received a stem cell transplant at the Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina. His parents say the last 12 months have been a miracle for the Corvallis youngster who was born oxygen-deprived and later diagnosed with cerebral palsey.

"They told us at Duke that it might be months before we saw any sign of improvement," Jinger Cain said. "Just six weeks after we returned home, he started to answer questions. His right leg straightened out a bit, and his vocabulary has expanded amazingly."

Since September the Corvallis family has lived in Bend during the week so Dylan can complete hyperbaric chamber treatments at Bend Memorial Clinic. He recently completed his 120th "dive."

After having tubes implanted in his ears to relieve pressure, Dylan and his parents spent about 90 minutes per day in a special tank - like a deep sea diving bell - that increases air pressure to about 2½ times normal. And, instead of breathing regular air, which contains about 20 percent oxygen, he breathed 100 percent oxygen.

Jinger said the combination is believed to push blood and oxygen deep into the body's tissue and cells.

"If the cells aren't dead," Jinger said, "the increased pressure pushes oxygen into them so the blood can start flowing there."

Before Dylan started receiving the hyperbaric chamber treatments, he was tested at the Children's Development and Rehab Center in Eugene.

"The speech therapist found that Dylan had progressed 5-plus months in the 3½-month period of time, which means he is progressing faster than his peers," Jinger said. "What is even more impressive is that before the stem cells and hyperbaric treatments, he was progressing at a rate of one month for every four months that went by, or three to four months of development in a year, so he was consistently falling behind his peers. Now he is progressing five times faster than before, and that has blown away his teacher and therapists at the school he attends, as well as his doctors."

Jinger said that Dylan's teacher in Bend told her she has never seen a child make such gains in her 20 years of teaching.

The only child undergoing the hyperbaric treatments, Dylan was a hit with doctors and technicians.

"They loved having Dylan there," Jinger said. "They always had a big smile for him and he called them all Doctor, which of course the technicians loved. Using adaptive equipment, one of the clinic's technicians even took Dylan skiing on Easter, which he loved."

The bill for the hyperbaric treatments came to $39,000. Treatments are not covered by insurance, but the Cains hope that will change.

"Dylan has made gains in other areas as well, but not as profound as in speech," his mother said. "His vision seems to be improving. He can see all of his toys and tell you which one you are holding."

Mark Cain said Dylan is getting stronger through his midsection, which helps when he takes assisted steps.

Both parents are focusing on helping Dylan develop his balance, which comes from "many hours of spinning, swinging, rolling, hanging upside down in a harness and other activities."

The Cains have kept the Duke University medical staff abreast of Dylan's improvement and will take him back to North Carolina this summer for a follow-up. Although he was infused with about 500 million to 600 million of his own stem cells (harvested from his umbilical cord at birth and stored in a special bank in the Midwest), he still has several million cells left for future infusions.

"We don't know whether to use them now or to wait because scientists might make breakthroughs in coming years," Jinger said.

Dylan will soon begin taking hyperbaric treatments in a soft-sided chamber that produces about 1.3 times atmospheric pressure. The soft-sided chambers cost about $17,000 and can be used at home. The Cains hope someday they can get one for Dylan.

The Cains accept the fact that their son has a long way to go - he still can't walk unassisted - but they find relief in believing the "pendulum has swung" in terms of the progress he's making.


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