COTA Hispanic teen receives life-saving transplant
One Texas family knows first hand about the critical shortage of Hispanic organ and tissue donors. But this family decided to do something about it. They focused their community not only on raising funds to pay for a life-saving transplant, but also on increasing the number of Hispanics included in the nation’s bone marrow donor registry.
The morning of Oct. 14, 2006, will be forever etched in the memories of the González family of The Woodlands, Texas. It was on that morning when 12-year-old Steven González, Jr. was camping with friends near the Gulf of Mexico and woke up with red dots on his face. Later in the day, Steven took a tumble and received a large gash on his hand, which was then exposed to the water of the Gulf. When his family rushed him to the doctor, they were told that Steven’s platelet and white blood counts were dangerously low, as was his ability to fight infection.
“We will never forget those words that day,” said Mom Rosie González. “Preliminary diagnosis … leukemia. Then the sky opened up over Houston and the streets flooded. It was as if all of creation was sharing our pain. Ten days later, we were told Steven had Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML M6 Leukemia), and he had only a 2-percent chance of survival. But we never gave up hope. ”
Steven’s only hope was a bone marrow transplant. In preparation for the transplant, Steven began his first chemotherapy treatment on Halloween of 2006 at the Children’s Cancer Hospital at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Just when the González family was starting to think Steven would beat the odds, there came more devastating news. The family’s insurance company would not cover the search for a bone marrow donor for Steven. Without a donor search Steven’s possibility of finding a match, and receiving a second chance at life, was severely reduced.
According to dad Steven González Sr., “We were beside ourselves wondering what we would do, and then we heard about the Children’s Organ Transplant Association, COTA, and our hope soared again.”
Within weeks of learning about COTA, the González’s friends and families quickly mobilized and started working to raise the necessary funds to help pay for transplant-related expenses.
Steven’s bone marrow registration drives caused excitement, and not just in his hometown. Over a period of several months, bone marrow drives were held in the Texas cities of Houston, El Paso and San Antonio, as well as in New Jersey, New Mexico and California. According to Steven Sr., “We quickly learned the bone marrow registry does not have the needed representation of the Hispanic community. In order to help our son, we had no choice but to work to increase the number of Hispanics in the registry.”
As of February, 2008, the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) reported that of the 7,000,000 adults registered with NMDP, only 650,000, or less than 10 percent, are of Hispanic or Latino descent. While more than 3,000 Hispanics received a tissue or organ donation during 2007, the Hispanic community is in desperate need of organ and tissue donors.
According to Steven Sr., “The response to Steven’s bone marrow drives was tremendous and resulted in a significant increase in the Hispanic representation on the nation’s bone marrow registry. With COTA’s assistance, and with the dedication of our friends and family, we found Steven a match and provided hope to numerous other Hispanic families who might not have found a match.”
A total of 14 bone marrow registration drives were held in honor of Steven González, and they resulted in more than 400 individuals being added to the bone marrow registry. According to Steven’s COTA Campaign Coordinator Linda Bankerd, “I held a bone marrow drive at work. I don’t know how many people signed up, but I can tell you that many people were touched. I was extremely honored to raise awareness of the critical need of minority bone marrow donors, and I am very thankful to have opened the eyes, minds and hearts of even just one person who signed up as a donor. I will forever be changed after working with COTA and after witnessing Steven fight this battle to find a donor.”
Steven’s Aunt Melanie González coordinated bone marrow drives in New Jersey. She recalls, “It was difficult being so far away from Steven when he needed the help the most. Coordinating bone marrow drives allowed me to feel like I was helping from afar. The truly wonderful thing was I wasn’t just helping my nephew, but other people too.”
Steven found a donor, but from an unexpected source. The parents of two Hispanic baby girls donated their umbilical cord blood to Steven. On Feb. 13, 2007, Steven received his transplant, and his second chance at life. He set many records post-transplant. Steven’s new cells engrafted in just 11 days; Steven was released from isolation in only 12 days; and he was released from the hospital a mere 18 days after receiving the donor cord blood.
According to Steven Sr., “Just like any other father, I have a deep desire and need to provide for my family, no matter what the circumstance. When the expenses started to add up for the bone marrow donor search, I truly didn’t know how I was going to be able to provide for my family. COTA enabled the generosity, the prayers and the loving gifts of family and friends to lift us up and to offer financial relief during this time of great need.”
According to Rosie González, “Watching my child face a serious illness is one of the most difficult things I have ever had to go through, but COTA helped in so many ways … by offering financial assistance and by allowing us to keep in communication with our family through Steven’s COTA Web site. COTA helped make an impossible situation seem a little bit easier.”
Today, Steven is 18 months post-transplant and is living life just like other 14-year-old boys. His family truly believes his diagnosis; his journey to transplant; the community support to help him and his family through COTA, and the effort to add new Hispanics to the National Marrow Donor Registry are all reasons he is thriving today: to impact lives by telling his story and increasing the country’s awareness of the need.
The Children’s Organ Transplant Association is a national charity that provides fundraising assistance for children needing life-saving transplants. COTA’s priority is to assure that no child or young adult is denied a transplant or excluded from a transplant waiting list due to lack of funds. 100 percent of all funds raised in honor of patients are used for transplant-related expenses. For more information about COTA, log onto www.cota.org or call 1-800-366-2682.