The Miracle of Molly

In the Fall of 2000, Denver’s Lisa and Jack Nash genetically engineered a baby in an effort to save their dying little girl. Pastors and pundits said it was the first step down a stem-cell-paved road to Hell. Five years later, the Nashes give us an exclusive look at Heaven.

August 2005

Solution in the System

It was below zero that day in the Twin Cities when the first of five days' worth of chemotherapy began dripping into Molly's central line. The chemo would annihilate whatever was left of Molly's bone marrow. As the solution worked through her system, Molly remarked that it tasted like metal. After chemo, Molly was radiated and wheeled back into her room, looking red and swollen as if she'd been baked in the microwave.

At 1:20 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2000, a nurse walked into Molly's room carrying a bag of her new brother's blood. A rabbi joined the family to bless Molly's "new life." While the slow, syrupy-thick drip began, Molly's family sang happy birthday—what everyone hoped would be the beginning of the rest of her life—and snapped pictures. Molly's baby brother, not even a month old, sat on her lap.

Jack could smell the blood. It smelled like creamed corn. Looking on, the mother in Lisa thought, "You expect thunder and lightning and miracles." But the nurse in her saw it was only a bag attached to a central line. The Nashes watched the clock. The transfusion—so many years in the making—lasted just 25 minutes. The family ate forkfuls of cake emblazoned with "Happy Transplant Day." Molly looked no different. No thunder. No lightning.

The Nashes prayed that the blood stem cells would find their way home to the empty bone marrow cavities. If all went well, the cells would set up shop and begin producing normal cells within weeks. Until then, blood transfusions, potent antibiotics, and a healthy dose of luck would keep Molly from falling ill. Wagner would monitor her blood counts with daily labs. And for days, that was how it went.

Some days Molly felt OK, others she shivered and sweat under the thin hospital sheets. Several days after transplant, chemotherapy's side effects wreaked havoc. She threw up, developed painful mouth ulcers, and could barely swallow with mucus glands that had dried up like raisins. One day, while lying in bed, Molly pulled off part of her tongue as if it were a piece of bark. Large tufts of Molly's hair fell out and clumped on her pillow. Lisa shaved Molly's head smooth. She looked like every other kid on the transplant ward. Nine out of 14 kids on the ward died.