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Grandma "donates some of her immune system" to help save 12-year-old's life in Northern Colorado

Grandma "donates some of her immune system" to help save child's life
Grandma "donates some of her immune system" to help save child's life 02:53

A 12-year-old girl from Greeley is largely back to living her full life after years of battling a rare health condition that impacts around 12 children in the Rocky Mountain region every year, and her current health was made possible by her doctors and her grandma.

Aubrie Dawson is now on the road to full recovery thanks to her grandma donating part of her immune system as part of a clinical trial at Children's Colorado in Aurora.

Years ago, Aubrie was watching a movie with her family when her aunt noticed her eyes were turning yellow. They quickly took her to the doctor. Her pediatrician then referred her to the Pediatric Liver Center at Children's Hospital Colorado.

Aubrie Dawson talks to CBS News Colorado about her healing process. CBS

There, Aubrie was initially diagnosed with auto-immune hepatitis which then evolved into a diagnosis of marrow failure.

"They noticed my platelets were going down, and we found out that I have severe aplastic anemia with bone marrow biopsies," Aubrie told CBS News Colorado's Dillon Thomas. "It was scary because I found out I could die, and I wanted to do so many things when I get older."

Aubrie spent many nights as an in-patient at Children's Hospital, rapidly becoming a staff-favorite. She recalled being very sick, bald and in severe stomach pain many nights. However, some nurses would stay up until two in the morning to make bracelets with her.

Aubrie even started helping the staff around their desks to pass the time.

However, her health took another turn for the worse when she developed a virus that medications weren't responding to.

"Aplastic anemia is a rare diagnosis," said Dr. Taiso Nakano, Pediatric Hematologist at Children's.

Aubrie had to rely on frequent platelet transfusions in order to stay alive, something she recalled as being very painful. However, her blood count remained low as a result of her failing marrow. She eventually had to have a transplant.

Eventually, Dr. Laura McLaughlin enlisted Aubrie's grandmother to help out. She was a match with Aubrie and was able to participate in a clinical trial that pulled immune cells from her and placed them in Aubrie.

"Her grandma was able to donate some of her immune system that could be taught to fight the viruses affecting Aubrie," Nakano said.

"She was so happy she started to cry. She was perfect for it," Aubrie recalled. "Thanks to her, I don't have to feel that pain anymore. My immune system is starting to grow on its own."

Doctors said Aubrie only had to undergo two cell infusions before her infection went away.

Now, Aubrie's grandma is further participating in a research study of the cell transfer.

Though her story of healing continues, Aubrie is now being credited for overcoming such a long health battle thanks to he determination and positive attitude throughout.

Amid a hospital filled with sick patients, Nakano said the most infectious thing everyone encountered was Aubrie's attitude. 

"You certainly have to keep them going. In Aubrie's case, you had an individual that kept us going. She is an incredible individual," Nakano said.

Aubrie was recently granted her wish by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. She initially wanted to go to Disney World. However, as someone who loves her family and appreciates all they did for her during her stay in the hospital, she decided to make a wish for something everyone could enjoy.

Aubrie asked for and was given a five-year pass to Elitch Gardens in Denver for all of her family members. She said she wanted a long-term wish that would create lasting memories for her younger siblings as well.

Aubrie also thanked her doctors and researchers at the hospital for helping save her life.

"Thank you for being here for me," Aubrie said.

"She is phenomenally better than where she was and we expect nothing but greatness from her and her health going forward," Nakano said.

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