Tag Archives: bone marrow

Sister’s bone marrow saves sibling, now they raise hope for a cure

| aaltman@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/photo by Alexa Altman

Ringlet curls, bright smiles and a love of the stage bond sisters Caroline and Lisette Watters.

So do the pinhole-sized scars on Lisette’s back.

At age four, Lisette donated a life-saving portion of her bone marrow to her sister, Caroline, who at just two years old, was diagnosed with cancer.

Now 10 years in remission, Caroline, 12, and Lisette, 14, from South Ozone Park, are closer than ever, raising awareness about blood cancer and participating in events for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, including the upcoming September 22 Light the Night Walk in Forest Park. While Caroline’s cancer has subsided, memories of the seven months lived in hospitals and hoping for good news remain.

In February of 2001, once-active Caroline was diagnosed with Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP), a blood platelet disorder, after growing lethargic and developing purple splotches all over her skin. The girls’ mother, Susan, joined an online support group for parents of children with ITP. Comparing stories with other parents, Susan became convinced her daughter had a completely different disease. She found a new doctor, who conducted a second round of tests.

In December of 2001, shortly after Caroline’s second birthday, they received her diagnosis — Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).

“It was obviously the most devastating thing, said Susan. “But it’s the sort of thing you have no choice but to move forward and be strong.”

Caroline underwent intensive chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but doctors agreed her only chance of survival was a bone marrow transplant, best retrieved from an immediate family member.

Doctors estimated Lisette would be a 25 percent match to her sister. Tests showed, due to their closeness in age, they were a more than perfect match.

Susan said Lisette was not forced into the procedure. Instead, she was proud. As a needle dipped into Lisette’s hip bone 150 times, extracting donor marrow, Susan said she remained brave, ecstatic to help her sister.

“I remember the day I gave her the transplant,” said Lisette. “I was really excited to give her my bone marrow.”

Shortly after the proceedure, doctors cleared Caroline to return home.

Fundraisers and awareness events for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society have become standard to the entire family. The girls speak on behalf of the non-profit, educating others about the importance of bone marrow donation and putting ever-necessary faces to a cause. Susan runs a Light the Night team, organizing fundraising marathons and triathlons. Last year, Caroline was named “Girl of the Year” by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for raising the most amount of money.

While Caroline’s memories of her cancer have faded, she remains forever grateful to her older sister.

“She’s my sister and I love her,” said Caroline. “I’ll never forget it. She saved my life.”

The two, she says, are best friends.

Help Save Colin

| aaltman@queenscourier.com


While most families celebrated Christmas by exchanging gifts, Kevin and Jennifer Flood spent their holiday surrounded by doctors and discovering that their six-year-old son Colin has Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL).

Colin, described as an athletic and outgoing kid, experienced fevers, night sweats, aches and pains — symptoms his parents assumed were signs of the seasonal flu — the week before Christmas. He spent the holiday in the hospital, receiving his first round of chemotherapy.

A first-grade student at Our Lady of Hope Catholic School in Middle Village, Colin plays in a peewee basketball league. Forced to give up the game he loves due to his illness, he is confined to the hospital, where he receives constant treatment.

Kevin, a retired firefighter who fought to protect the community during 9/11, is now asking others to assist him in his efforts to save his son, by urging people to get tested to see if they are able to donate bone marrow.

“The hardest thing as a parent is knowing there is nothing I can do to help save my son,” said Kevin. “So please, get swabbed and give Colin a fighting chance.”

DKMS, a non-profit organization that helps determine if people are suitable for bone marrow donation, will hold a registration session at Our Lady of Hope on Saturday, February 18 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Open to those in good health, people between the ages of 18 and 55 can potentially donate to any patient in need of a transplant.

“I hope this [drive] inspires other people to see what they can do,” said DKMS spokesperson James Kirkland. “All it takes is genuine compassion.”

For more information about DKMS, visit www.getswabbed.org.

Help give the gift of life

| mchan@queenscourier.com


Carly Rose Nieves will be turning 16 in January, but in lieu of a lavish Super Sweet 16 party most girls her age plan for years, she is putting all her efforts into saving lives.

The Middle Village teen has been battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) — a cancer of the white blood cells that normally fight infections — since she was seven.

Carly received blood transfusions and underwent two years of intensive chemotherapy. Then at age 12, she suffered a relapse of ALL after three years. The relapse placed Carly in the high-risk category, which requires additional intensive, high-dose chemotherapy.
Because of her intensive treatment, Carly — who adores school and managed to graduate as an honor roll student in the 6th grade — had to miss many years of it.

Now Carly — who regrew a full head of hair following the chemo — is out of treatment and in remission. And after being out of school for three years, Carly is back as a freshman at Christ the King (CTK) Regional High School and she is “loving every minute of it.”

“She’s doing awesome,” said her mother, Lisa. “She’s still very tired and weak, but that’s expected for the first year or so. But she manages every morning to get up and go to school. It’s just been a great experience for her because she can socialize now that she has an immune system.”

Now at school, Carly has a great following of friends and administrators who understand.

“There are kids that remember her from last year because she did a speech at their Thanksgiving Mass,” Lisa said. “All the kids in her classes, teachers, everyone at the school — they all seem to get along great. She has good and bad days because of the chemo, but the teachers really understand.”

Still, Carly has not forgotten the friends she made in the hospital and others that are still suffering, including one friend — of Italian and Chinese descent — who relapsed for the second time and has a hard time finding a bone marrow donor match because of her ethnicity.

That’s why Carly, her friends and family are holding another community blood and bone marrow drive for the second year in a row at Christ the King, and they need as many people as possible to donate on December 17 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Those of Asian descent are particularly needed to match Carly’s friend, Lisa said.

“We need to find the positive in all of this, and this is the only way we could think of to try and help as many people as we can. It truly does save a life,” Lisa said, adding that one bag of blood can save three lives.

Last year, they collected 200 pints of blood, registered 54 people to be bone marrow donors and raised $3,000 for Friends of Karen — an organization that supports critically ill children and their families.

This year, they will have a few small raffles to continue raising money for Friends of Karen. Prizes include gift baskets and toy prizes that were donated, including a tricycle and a wooden fire engine.

But mainly, Lisa said, she wants to spread awareness about how important and easy it is to register and donate.

“Carly needed a lot of transfusions during her treatment. The last thing you ever want to hear as a patient or a parent is ‘We ran out.’ That happened to us once. It’s just very scary,” Lisa said. “You can save a life and a family’s life. It’s amazing what can be done from just swabbing your cheeks.”
Lisa explained that cancer patients may require frequent blood transfusions because aggressive treatment often destroys healthy blood cells along with diseased ones. Red blood cell transfusions to fight anemia and platelet transfusions to control bleeding are often needed.

“Carly keeps that in mind all the time,” she said. “She tries to get everyone to be aware. We just want to tell people how easy it is to give the gift of life. What better time of year to do it than the holiday season? It’s better than giving money.”

For more information about becoming a marrow donor, call 1-800-MARROW-2. It’s a simple process that takes just a few minutes of paperwork and a cheek swab.

To learn more about Friends of Karen, go to www.friendsofkaren.org.
And to find out more about the blood drive, on Saturday, December 17 at Christ the King, 68-02 Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village, email lhorner67@gmail.com.