By Praveena Raman
Excitement is high in the air as young swimmers line up to race free style. Coaches give final tips and parents, encouraging their young ones, remind them of their goals. Suddenly a hush falls as the starter announces “swimmers step up, take your mark…” The swimmers dive into the water and soon a 9 year-old boy pulls away from the rest, swimming strong and fast to the finish. Reaching well before most of the other swimmers, he pulls himself out as his mother brings his crutches. He places them nonchalantly under his armpits and gracefully walks away to join his family.
Grant Beall, like any other boy his age, enjoys a variety of activities. He swims competitively, rides a scooter, jumps on the trampoline and enjoys rock climbing. The one big difference that sets him apart from other 9-year-old boys is that he does all these strenuous activities with only one leg. When asked how he felt at the end of the race he smiled shyly and said “I felt very proud. [Butter] Fly is my favorite stroke though free style is my strongest and I also swim back stroke.”
Grant Beall was not born handicapped and did not lose his leg in an accident. His leg had to be amputated due to an infection. From the time he was a baby, Grant suffered from severe infections. He had been hospitalized for 120 days before he turned five and received many antibiotic shots in his leg to combat the infections. One day in April 2002, when he was five, his leg, which had received more than 40 shots, had a red spot that quickly became sore. When Grant complained of pain in his leg, his mother Sheri took him to the emergency room. The red splotch started growing rapidly and he was diagnosed as infected by necrotizing myofasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria.
To save his life, Grant’s parents had to make the agonizing decision to amputate his infected right leg. A few days before Grant’s leg was completely amputated, his doctors at Stanford started giving him Neupogen, a recombinant human granulocyte colony- stimulating factor or G-CSF, made by Amgen (headquartered in Southern California, Amgen currently has a presence in Fremont with its acquisition of Abgenix).
At first Kent Beall, Grant’s father thought the doctors were using Neupogen as an off-label treatment. However, within a few months following the amputation, Kent discovered that Grant had been diagnosed with Cyclic Neutropenia for which Neupogen is a well documented treatment. Kent also mentioned that “Neupogen has been well chronicled in medical journals to have a profound positive effect on the reduction in infections, antibiotic use, and mortality for cyclic Neutropenia.”
Neutropenia is a blood disorder caused by low levels of neutrophils – white blood cells that fight bacteria in the blood. If the concentration of neutrophils is not enough there is a tendency for more bacterial infections which could be life threatening.
Cyclic Neutropenia is a kind of Neutropenia which occurs every 3 weeks or 21 days. This condition, when it occurs, lasts for 3-6 days and patients suffer from fever, illnesses and mouth ulcers. Between cycles of ill health the patient is usually healthy. Cyclic Neutropenia is a genetic disease, usually hereditary, occurring in both adults and children and present in several members of the family. The ELA2 gene is involved in this condition and when it is defective, neutrophils do not survive normally in the body. It is interesting to note that in Grant’s case no one else in his immediate family has Cyclic Neutropenia.
G-CSF is one of the treatment options for Cyclic Neutropenia. It raises the level of neutrophils in the blood and lessens susceptibility to new infections. Survival and quality of life for a patient is improved. This has certainly been true for Grant. He gives himself shots of G-CSF in the stomach and has been able to live a normal healthy life. With the help of prosthesis, family, friends and his dog, Grant is participating in most activities others of his age do including jumping on the trampoline, swimming and some activities like rock climbing which is for those more courageous and adventurous of nature.