An unexpected bond

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Latral

Latral, blood stem cell recipient

Latral always knew helping others was her calling, which explains her 20 years of experience in the medical field. She is the head dialysis technician at Virginia Commonwealth University Health System. In 2014, Latral and her husband, Norman, were soon to celebrate their second anniversary with a romantic getaway. Latral fell ill and knew something wasn’t right. Excruciating pain led to a canceled getaway and a trip to the emergency room instead. Latral thought she may have an ulcer, but it proved to be something much worse.

Latral was then diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). She was determined to get this behind her, so she could go on with what she felt she was meant to do in this world, taking care of others. With further appointments, Latral learned her cancer had taken over 98% of her body, devouring her red blood cells.

“How long will I be here?” she asked the nurse from her hospital bed.

Without immediate chemotherapy, she had a 4-6 week prognosis. The nurse patted her head, as she was going to be there awhile. Latral longed to get back to her patients, taking their vitals, double checking their monitors, praying with them, and more.

Some days, she slept 16 hours. She was always in pain, from head to toe. Chemotherapy wiped out her entire immune system. After chemotherapy, Latral would need a blood stem cell transplant. At this point, her friends, family, community, and even strangers knew her story. It was no secret that she needed a blood stem cell donor, but it was also no secret the chance of finding one was low. Her siblings were not matches, and Latral knew what a stranger would have to go through to help her.

“Who had that kind of time?” she thought.

Latral turned to prayer. She prayed for herself, and her potential donor. Against all odds, a donor stepped up. This donor was a perfect match for Latral.

The chemotherapy wiped out her leukemia, but unfortunately, when she was ready to have her blood stem cell transplant, Latral’s leukemia returned. Nine months later, after her second round of chemotherapy, she was ready to receive her new blood stem cells, and her donor was also ready to donate.

The operation was a success.

“Who was this individual?” she thought, as she prayed for their healing as much as she prayed for her own.

Raykell

Nearly a decade ago, Raykell had a very close friend in need of serious help. Her young son needed a blood stem cell donor. Raykell joined the Be The Match Registry® in hopes of being his match, but unfortunately, she couldn’t help. The young boy passed away soon after. Fast forward to 2014 and Raykell found herself at church during a Be The Match Registry drive. Her pastor was encouraging people to join the registry and explaining the importance of people of color being blood stem cell donors. She didn’t stay long, as she knew she was already registered.

The Tuesday following that service, Raykell got the call from Be The Match. She was potentially a match for someone in need. While on the call, fear took over Raykell’s body. Her biggest concern was how much donating may hurt. While listening through the phone, Raykell was convinced she would say no. She was currently in a bad family situation, and fear was getting the best of her.

Raykell, blood stem cell transplant donor (third from left), with her transplant nurses

But then, something different happened. In that same moment, Raykell felt God speak to her, telling her he had prepared her for this. Suddenly, her faith took over, and all of her fear diminished. She said yes, and went through with what she now calls an “experience of a lifetime.”

Raykell’s initial testing was a long process. All she knew about the patient she was about to help is that she had leukemia. Going into her donation, Raykell was nervous about being awake and worried about being in pain. The nurses made the process easier than expected, and she overall had a good experience. She felt very tired afterwards, but returned to work two days later without difficulties. A lot of people told Raykell how proud they were of her for agreeing to go through with donating her blood stem cells. Many also shared they would not have been able to go through with it as she had.

Coming together

After the initial waiting period, Latral was allowed to collect her donor’s information. She learned her donor’s name and location, and was finally able to reach out to Raykell. In 2015 the two of them connected via phone, and from there, a friendship began. They became fast friends, talking on the phone daily, and looking forward to meeting for the first time.

“I had to ask her what made her make such a sacrifice for someone she did not even know.” said Latral.

“I did not know I would feel so grateful for going through this experience. The best part was hearing my recipients voice for the first time, saying ‘Thank you so much for giving me another chance at life.'” She shares how Latral’s family has thanked her and made her feel as if she has done something remarkable. She feels God prepared her all those years ago to help someone in need.

“It didn’t matter that I didn’t know who it was. God knew.” shared Raykell.

In 2018, Latral and Raykell were given the opportunity to meet for the first time at the Be The Match New York Soiree in front of a room full of Be The Match® supporters. The photos of the two of them embracing for the first time are more than words can describe, and something nobody who witnessed it will ever forget.

Now, an indescribable bond between two women has begun.

Latral (left), meeting her blood stem cell transplant donor, Raykell (right)

Latral (left), meeting her blood stem cell transplant donor, Raykell (right)

Raykell (left), blood stem cell transplant donor, with her recipient, Latral (right)

Volunteer Spotlight: Tom Teach

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Tom Teach’s commitment to Be The Match® started when his 4-year old grandson, Ben, was diagnosed with ALL and AML. Ben received a bone marrow transplant and for nearly six beautiful months after, Ben laughed and smiled as a cancer-free little boy. But when Ben’s leukemia returned, nothing could be done. Tom and his family said goodbye to their sweet boy in February 2015.

Today, Tom is a dedicated member of the Foundation’s board and a passionate champion of Be The Match. Tom is a Navy veteran and he and his son spoke at the Naval Academy and with the help of the Department of Defense, recruited more than 700 potential donors to the Be The Match Registry®. Tom continues to participate in leadership roles at registry drives at the Naval Academy. As a Notre Dame alum, he utilizes his contacts to raise awareness and help recruit registry members at Notre Dame games. He has also extended his efforts to Goshen College and Bethel College.

In addition, Tom has become a tireless fundraiser for Be The Match Foundation®. He helps acquire key sponsorships for the Be The Match Walk+Run event and participates with his friends and family as “Team Ben.” Over the past three years, his team has raised more than $165,000 for the Chicago Be The Match Walk+Run.

“Tom’s service to Be The Match is an excellent example of true volunteerism,” says Nicole Kersting, Senior Development Manager at Be The Match. “In addition to his recruitment and fundraising efforts, he is willing to step in with any in-kind request large or small through his foam packaging company.”

The impact Tom continues to have on patients and their loved ones is huge. Due to Tom’s efforts, more patients are able to get a second chance at life.

Looking to get involved? Find a volunteer event near you.

Jade is a recent transplant recipient. This is her story.

Posted October 8th, 2014 by Be The Match and filed in News
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fight-transplantday2Super Wonder Jade

“Never. Ever. Givvvve up! Never. Ever. Givvvve up!” This is the cheer of smiling, bubbling, 4-year-old Jade. What is she cheering for? Courage to beat her cancer.

A fighter from day one, Jade’s journey began with unexplained episodes of limping, joint pain and fever. An otherwise healthy toddler who could run circles around her older brother, Jade’s parents, Jaytoe and Taneika, were puzzled. Multiple visits to the emergency room and they still didn’t know what was wrong.

On January 5, 2012, a few days after celebrating the New Year, Jade was admitted to the hospital for a persistent eye infection. Trusting their gut, they asked for additional tests. “We figured while we were there, why not get to the bottom of it once and for all,” says Taneika.

Eager to help, Jade’s doctors listened to the list of symptoms and explored many options. Ultimately, the news was devastating. Little Jade had cancer—acute myeloid leukemia (AML). “We were floored. It was hard to swallow because she wasn’t even two years old yet. We were still getting to know her and watch her grow, but hearing this diagnosis almost felt like a death sentence,” says Taneika.

wonderkids2Eight months and five rounds of chemo later, Jade was in remission. Like any parent, Taneika was overjoyed, but she was worried that it was too good to be true. They filled their days with fun activities like visiting museums, baking cookies, painting and dancing to Jade’s favorite tunes. “Our family had a renewed sense of living life to the fullest, but I always felt like I was looking over my shoulder.”

When Halloween arrived, Jade was old enough to help pick her costume. “She absolutely loves dressing up and equally loves ‘saving the day,’” says Taneika. “Familiar with traditional princess costumes she was soooo excited to see the warrior princess Wonder Woman costume.” Completely thrilled, Jade declared herself “Super Wonder Jade” with powers to fight the “bad guy cells.” The nickname stuck and Jade continues to call herself this today.

Relapse

On March 19, 2014, just a few weeks shy of celebrating Jade’s fourth birthday, her leukemia resurfaced. “It was harder to hear the news the second time. We thought we had it beat, but we didn’t,” says Taneika.

Immediately, Jade’s doctor’s explained that a marrow transplant was her best shot for a cure. “They told us that relapsed AML was more difficult to treat. They also told us the likelihood of finding an unrelated donor was very low because of how uniquely made Jade is, because of our ethnic backgrounds.” The frightened family knew it would be a tough battle, but brave Jade took the news with grace.

“Jade returned to the oncology floor like she owned the place,” says Taneika. “Wandering the halls, serenading the staff at the nurses’ station, and quickly finding her place in the art room.” But, despite the familiarity, things were different. Jade was a big girl now. “The halls were the same, the staff was the same, but Jade had the ability to ask questions like: Why are we here? When are we going home? Why can’t my friends come over?”

Thankfully, Jade’s cheerful nature quickly won over and she settled into her routine filled with activities such as singing “Let It Go” as she said good bye to her hair, swishing “magic mouthwash” to lessen the pain of mouth sores and earning more than 500 beads of courage—one for every procedure.

In her journal, Taneika wrote, “Jade was so playful, so brave and so strong throughout her treatment, even after a rough chemo session. And she would just say, ‘I’m smiling for me.’ We absolutely believe that her spirit and attitude helped her heal… helped strengthen our faith and our resolve that she would be cured.”

day1transplantadmission2Re-birthday

Finally, on July 3, after months of searching, transplant day arrived. Unable to find an adult donor, doctors located a 5 out of 6 cord blood match.

Pronounced Jade’s “re-birthday,” the special day was filled with celebration banners, cupcakes and Jade’s favorite thing in the world—music. “She proceeded to dance for an hour straight, grabbing our hands and pulling us to the dance floor one by one,” says Taneika.

Exhausted, Jade finally fell asleep as nurses hooked up an IV pole for her new, life-giving cells to drip slowly into her body. “When you hear the word ‘transplant’ you think surgery…sedation…but it was not like that at all,” says Taneika. “The whole process took less than two hours.”

The Jade Parade

Twenty-four days after transplant, Jade was allowed to make her first trip home. Having seen parade-like, end-of-treatment celebrations before, Taneika was overcome with emotion as Jade exchanged her Beads of Courage for her requisite sunglasses, high filtration mask and tiara. “She went out in style, leading the staff decisively toward the elevator cheering, ‘I’m brave, I’m strong, I’m ready for whatever comes along,’” says Taneika.

By day 29, Jade was 100% donor cells. She did experience some early setbacks with graft versus host disease (GVHD) and liver damage, but Jade is currently healthy, happy and cancer free.

snowday2Forever Thankful

Taneika is at a loss for words when thinking about the gift their family received. “Thank you seems inadequate… We wish there were words beautiful or accurate enough to fully express our gratitude for this incredible gift — for saving our daughter’s life and keeping our family whole,” she says.

“With each milestone that Jade reaches, every smile that she cracks, each hug that she shares with us, we are eternally grateful to the mother who made this possible when she donated her newborn baby’s cord blood, to Be The Match for facilitating her gift, and to Jade’s medical team for their incredible support. We thank God for them all. We will certainly be reflecting on that this holiday season and hoping not only for Jade’s continued remission, health and overall rock-stardom, but also for a match and a cure for all of the parents, grandparents and children who need it.”

The family is also grateful people like you who support Be The Match by making a financial gift. “Thank you for helping to give meaning to Jade’s journey. We often ask and wonder, ‘Why Jade? Why did this happen to our sweet girl?’ There will never be a satisfactory answer to those questions, but we are so heartened that her story, her spirit inspired you to make a gift that will help heal another family like ours that has been turned upside down by cancer.”

Help kids like Jade. Give a child the gift of life.