GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — Hundreds of people had their bone marrow type tested on Monday to see if they could help a 9-year-old Grandville girl with leukemia or another leukemia patient.
Lola DeYoung was first diagnosed with leukemia in February 2011. After two years of treatment, she went into remission, but the cancer came back after only a few months. She received a high-risk treatment including spinal taps and brain radiation. Just as the end of the treatment seemed near, she relapsed a second time.
Lola is going into fourth grade and has been undergoing cancer treatment nearly nonstop for more than four years. Hospitals have become a second home.
“They poke me, and then they give me, like, chemo if they need to, or they just take blood and then they take it out, it all depends, and then sometimes they give me blood,” Lola described. “You get used to it after four and half years. It kinda becomes a part of your life.”
Now on her third battle with cancer, a bone marrow transplant may be the only way to save Lola’s life. But she has an unusual genetic marker that makes it difficult to find a donor. Currently, there are no matches in the registry.
Lola says she’s looking for her “unicorn match.”
“At the end of this, I want there to be another unicorn bone marrow that can come to me and make me all done with cancer,” Lola said.
Siblings have a 25 percent chance of being a bone marrow match, but Lola’s sister is not one. Lola’s mother is pregnant with another sibling, but it’s not yet known whether the new baby will be a match.
About a week ago, a video was posted to Facebook advertising the bone marrow registry drive at Harbor Life Church in Grandville. The community responded, with more than 700 people lining up out the door to participate on Monday.
“We were motivated by the video to come out and register,” Scott Vanderaa said.
“I knew there would be a lot (of people), but I didn’t’ know there would be this many,” Lola said as she looked at the people waiting to register.
People took a few minutes for a simple swab of the inside of their cheek that could save a life.
Drive organizers say 740 people showed up to register in person. As of Tuesday afternoon, another 715 potential donors had registered online and that number was still growing.
“Thanks for being here,” Lola said.
“I can’t thank everyone enough for coming here. It means more than we can explain to people. It’s fantastic,” said Matt DeYoung, Lola’s dad.
The bone marrow drive may find a donor not only for Lola, but also for other patients in need of a transplant.
“We are overwhelmed with joy and with love,” Cindy DeYoung, Lola’s grandmother, said of the turnout. “We just cannot believe what we’re seeing here, and it means the world to us because she means the world to us. And just the fact that there’s so many people that can be helped, we’re just overwhelmed. Because God is on the move here, and he’s going to help heal somebody. And we’re praying that Lola gets a match.”
You can still register with Be The Match and order a home test kit to see if you are a match to any patients in need of a bone marrow transplant.
Be The Match says it won’t be immediately known whether drive produced a donor for Lola, which organizers admitted was unlikely. Due to confidentiality rules, donors and patients aren’t provided with each other’s names and can’t exchange contact information until a year after the donation.
The organization said that if the drive produces a donor for any other patients, it would announce the information if the donor agreed.