The following content is part of our new Behind The Match series, an ongoing effort to provide a behind-the-scenes look at marrow transplant and some of the lesser-known, yet crucial ways we deliver cures for blood cancer patients.
In May 2013, Cherise stepped into Be The Match on her first day and knew that her life had come full circle. “When I was hired I thought, ‘What are the odds?’” she said. “This was meant to be.”
Born with severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), Cherise’s life was saved by a bone marrow transplant she received as an infant. Now, as an adult, Cherise uses her experience as a life calling to motivate and inspire people personally and professionally.
As the youngest of four children, Cherise said her mother quickly realized something was wrong with her newborn. “I was always sick,” she said. “I was three months old and the doctors were baffled.”
After months of testing at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital, Cherise was diagnosed with SCID in December 1977 and sent to the University of Minnesota Medical Center.
“Doctors told my parents it had never been done before, but they could try a bone marrow transplant,” she said. Her nine year old brother, Richmond, was a match, and Cherise received her transplant in February 1978.
Despite her family’s hopes, Richmond’s bone marrow failed to engraft into his sister’s. By the end of February, doctors told Cherise’s parents that her body rejected the transplant – her only chance of survival. “They told my parents to begin making funeral arrangements,” she said. “My parents went home to plan my funeral and tell my siblings their baby sister was not coming home.”
As her family prepared to say goodbye, a miracle moment changed everything. “My parents got a call a few weeks later telling them to get to the hospital immediately,” she said. “When they walked in, my eyes were open and I was smiling.”
Cherise remained at the University of Minnesota Medical Center while her transplant successfully engrafted. As the youngest of eight children who had received bone marrow transplants at the hospital in 1978, Cherise said the staff “adopted” her during her stay, including teaching her to walk and potty-training her.
Three months after her transplant, Cherise returned home with no immunosuppressant medications and lived a healthy childhood. Her mother sent the hospital staff periodic updates – Cherise even appeared on the cover of the University of Minnesota’s Health Sciences publication in 1983.
With no complications, Cherise’s healthy life continued into young adulthood. In 1998, while a junior at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, an unexpected phone call brought her back to her early fight for life.
“One of my nurses from 1978 called me,” Cherise said. “She thought I had died. She was in tears – it was very overwhelming.”
During the call, Cherise also learned she was the sole survivor of the eight children who had received bone marrow transplants in 1978. This realization gave Cherise a deepened sense of purpose – which was tested in 2001 when she was diagnosed with liver failure. “Over twenty years later, graft versus host disease came into play,” she said. “My immune system was rejecting my liver.”
After successful treatment, Cherise gained a renewed understanding about the importance of health and wellness. “I have been living healthy ever since,” she said.
With a career in Human Resources, Cherise said she thrives on teaching others about the importance of living well. “Hopefully, I can help educate diverse communities about the need for diverse donors,” she said. “I am a miracle. I truly believe there is a reason I am here. I believe I am doing what I need to be doing.”