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Young mother finds bone marrow donor from across the world

Wednesday September 19, 2012
Submitted photo
Taylor Dawn Vermette-Wawia, holding her son, is expecting to receive a bone marrow transplant from an indigenous donor from the other side of the world after she was diagnosed with aplastic anemia this summer after first experiencing symptoms last fall.

A bone marrow match has been found for an 18-year-old mother who is in hospital with a rare bone marrow failure disease.

“There is a big sigh of relief,” said Dolores Wawia, grandmother of Taylor Dawn Vermette-Wawia, who first noticed her aplastic anemia symptoms last fall. “She phoned me herself and was crying on the phone. She said ‘Mama, they found seven possible donors.’”

Aplastic anemia is a rare but extremely serious disorder resulting from the failure of bone marrow to produce blood cells. About two to 12 new cases are diagnosed each year per million people.

The disease afflicts both adults and children and may be acquired or inherited, with treatment depending on the patient’s age, severity of the disease and availability of a Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) matched donor.

Although there are about 250,000 identified donors in Canada, Wawia said none of them matched her granddaughter’s HLA.

“So they went world-wide and they found seven possible matches,” Wawia said. “Out of those seven people, they narrowed it down to one donor. And now they’ve got to find that donor.”
Wawia said her granddaughter is looking at having the bone marrow transplant in about a month.
“She’s got to get better, and once she’s better to walk around and they don’t medicate her as much, they’ll send her down to Toronto to meet her donor and work from there,” Wawia said. “I am not sure where this donor is from, but it’s not anywhere near North America.”

Wawia said the donor is an indigenous person from a country on the far side of the world.
Vermette-Wawia is currently allowed out of the hospital for two-to-three hours every day after being kept in the hospital since mid-June.

“They’re trying to build up her strength and stamina so they can send her down to Toronto,” Wawia said. “Now they’re withdrawing a lot of the medication they’re giving her and she is able to walk around. She was so swollen before, but the swelling has gone down.”

Wawia said family members have been watching Vermette-Wawia 24 hours a day after she walked out of the hospital due to the effects of her medications.

“Her partner, my son and her mom have been doing shift work to stay with her,” Wawia said.
Wawia said the doctors didn’t know what was wrong with Vermette-Wawia at first, but in mid-July they made the aplastic anemia diagnosis.

“The platelets are not developing in her (bone marrow)” Wawia said. “‘You’ll need a bone marrow transplant,’ is what they told her. ‘You better get your siblings tested.’”

But Vermette-Wawia’s brother was not a suitable match, so her information was sent to the OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network, which is responsible for finding and matching volunteer donors to patients who require stem cell and bone marrow transplants.

Wawia encourages First Nations people to join the OneMatch network to provide a larger base of possible bone marrow donors for future First Nation patients.

The Canadian Blood Services is currently seeking 17 to 35-year-old Aboriginal males to join the OneMatch network.

Vermette-Wawia’s mother is Lakota Sioux from Saskatchewan and her father is a Gull Bay band member.

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