I-TEAM: Local 3rd-grader finds 75% match for bone marrow donation

Published: Jun. 6, 2022 at 6:30 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - We have good news to share about a local girl with leukemia.

Our I-TEAM told you about how difficult it can be to find a match for a bone marrow donor for patients of color.

It’s not a perfect match, but a recent donor’s generosity could mean Amelia Johnson is one step closer to living the life she deserves.

As the school year ended, friends, classmates, and teachers lined the driveway at Greenbrier Elementary to celebrate a brave third-grader who was hoping for a new beginning.

“I want this to be over with, so I can get my puppy,” said Amelia, who’s battling AML leukemia.

The form of leukemia has a high rate of relapse. To give her the best shot at a long healthy life, she needs a bone marrow donor.

“Unfortunately, we could not find a match for Amelia because of her ethnic makeup. So, the rush was to find a good mismatch,” said her mom, Salome Sookdieopersad.

While they worried about finding the closest match, they were hit with another crisis, since she needs platelets once or twice a week and blood about every two weeks.

“It was very scary because, in the midst of everything, they had this emergency shortage. They had to be really careful with how they were treating her. They had to wait until her levels were super low before transfusing her. That was unnerving. Because she could have bled seriously,” she said.

Along with begging donors to give blood, they were desperately searching for bone marrow donors of diverse backgrounds.

Our I-TEAM told you about the odds facing Amelia when they started the search back in February. Since her background is part Asian and part African American, the genetic needle to thread for a perfect match, is narrow.

And the worldwide search to find the best possible match has been heartbreaking.

“There were a few good choices, but they did not want to sign up for the bone marrow harvesting which the pediatric patients need,” said her mother.

Her mom was only a 50% match, but it was the best they had. But two days before she was set to be admitted for the bone marrow transplant, they received a phone call.

“I got a call from the transplant doctor telling me someone appeared out of nowhere and consented to do whatever was needed. She was a 75% mismatched donor,” she said.

A healthy 23-year-old was willing to give Johnson 25% better odds than her mom could. And 75% better odds than she has right now.

“I was in shock. I asked are you serious? She said yes,” said Sookdieopersad.

Friday, Johnson received the bone marrow we are all hoping changes everything for her.

“Over the next few weeks, they’ll keep doing blood tests and see if the bone marrow donors cells are engrafting or taking up in her old marrow,” she said.

If they are, this smart, shy girl will hopefully be back to being a kid again and taking care of that new puppy very soon.

This only happens with donors, and to find out if you are a match for someone, all you have to do is take a cheek swab and mail it off. If you are a match, that’s the other important piece. You need to be willing to answer that call.

For pediatric patients, they need to take the marrow out of your pelvic bone, but it’s an outpatient procedure done under anesthesia. Donors say it usually feels like you worked out hard at the gym. For that, you can save a life.

To sign up, visit DKSM or Be The Match.

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