SHOWELL – Community members are spearheading a bone marrow donor registration drive at Showell Elementary School (SES) later this month after a third-grade student was recently diagnosed with cancer.
Ed Reid, school counselor at SES and one of the event coordinators for the registration drive, said mother Brandy Terrell approached him with the idea after her nine-year-old daughter, Brianna Merritt, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a form of blood cancer that begins in the bone marrow.
Terrell said she took her daughter to the dentist in late October to have her swollen gums examined. At the advice of the dentist, Merritt was sent to her pediatrician, who prescribed her antibiotics to reduce the inflammation.
When that treatment failed, Terrell said the pediatrician immediately sent Merritt to the hospital for a full blood test, which confirmed the diagnosis. Afterwards, Merritt was sent to Johns Hopkins Hospital for a round of chemotherapy, which doctors told Terrell would successfully attack the leukemia.
“That all changed after the first round,” Terrell said, “when she didn’t make remission.”
Since that time, Merritt has received two additional rounds of chemotherapy and is currently in remission. Although two percent of her leukemia remains, Terrell said her daughter will return to Johns Hopkins March 27 for a bone marrow transplant.
“She will need further treatment because the leukemia is so resistant,” Terrell said, “but we hope that this is what cures her.”
Although Merritt will soon undergo a bone marrow transplant of her own, Reid said the family’s goal was to give hope to more than 14,000 children and adults with blood cancer currently awaiting a donor.
“Brianna and the family were interested in growing the registry of bone marrow donors,” he said.
Although the family will be at Johns Hopkins at the time of the event, Terrell said members of the community and family friends have stepped up to organize the registration drive.
“This is all we can do right now,” Terrell said. “When we thought about doing these drives, I asked him [Reid] about it. He took the ball and ran with it from there.”
Reid, who kept in touch with Merritt and her family after she left school, and Jennifer Neeb, a family friend, will host the bone marrow donor drive March 31 from 5-9 p.m. in the cafeteria/auditorium of SES. The registration drive will be free to those who want to participate.
Volunteers will be on hand to administer eligibility forms and cheek swabs for those ages 18-55 who want to register as bone marrow donors. The swabs will then be sent off for testing and names will be added to the national donor registry.
DKMS, an international nonprofit that registers donors and raises awareness for blood cancers, will provide the supplies and act as a resource for registrants who are called to be a donor, according to Terrell.
Reid said the event will be a great cause for those, like Merritt, who need a bone marrow transplant to survive.
“She is up there with a lot of other kids who need our help,” he said.
For more information on the bone marrow donor registration drive, contact Reid at 410-632-5361.