Cowboys’ Family Knows Importance of Bone Marrow Registry

by | Jan 11, 2018 | Articles, Life & Style, The Team

Here’s an idea for those of us who have already resolved to live healthier and happier in the New Year: sharing our gift of good health with people who are hoping to find their perfect match on the national bone marrow donor registry.

Every three minutes, one person is diagnosed with a blood cancer. They are searching for a cure, and it could be you.

The Cowboys’ running backs coach Gary Brown knows what it’s like to hope and pray for a match. His daughter Malena, who is returning to Penn State for the second semester for her freshman year, was diagnosed at age 14 with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), a rare type of cancer in children that is a slowly progressing blood and bone marrow disease.

Malena needed a matching blood marrow donor, which is why the Brown family has been involved over the years with Be The Match Registry®, the national program connecting patients to non-related registry members willing to donate their healthy bone marrow or stem cells.

“Malena was diagnosed in May 2013 but before that she had tremendous headaches and fatigue,” recalls Coach Brown. “She looked very pale. We thought maybe it was the flu. Turns out she was anemic and had leukemia. We got her treatment immediately. She received blood transfusions and platelet transfusions and all sort of medicines to help keep this under control.”

“I missed four months of high school,” notes Malena. “A teacher came to my house and brought all my work. I couldn’t get behind because I didn’t want to repeat my freshman year. Each week I got a blood transfusion or a platelet transfusion because my blood counts are low and my bone marrow isn’t making enough of my own blood. So people have to donate blood and platelets. If I received a bone marrow transplant, it would take everything away and I won’t need transfusions.

“It’s been hard for them to find a match for me because I’m biracial and there aren’t a lot of donors out there who are biracial. But it just takes one! And it’s not just about me. There are millions of people who could potentially be the match for someone.

“To register, it doesn’t take much. All you have to do is get your cheek swabbed (with a cotton swab to collect a sample for the registry). If you’re thinking it’s hard or it’s painful to register, it’s not. It’s very easy and it’s important. You could save somebody’s life by giving something of yourself.”

“I remember the first time she got a transfusion. We learned there are many types of blood products including platelets,” recalls Kim, Malena’s mom. “People can help children with leukemia not only by registering as bone marrow donors, but also by regularly donating blood and platelets. There’s a real need. So we encourage everyone to find their closest blood donation centers and donate blood, platelets, and sign up for the Be The Match Registry®.

“I want to shout it from the rooftop, not just for my daughter, but for all the people that are waiting.  There are stories of people who have found donors from other countries. We’re calling on Cowboys Nation, we’re calling on NFL Nation. We’re calling on everyone. If you can find in your heart that part of you that says, ‘I’m saving someone’s life!’ If this were your child, you would want someone to do this for your child and your family. This isn’t just about Malena. This is about what you can do to help save a life.”

Unable to find a match, Malena was on-and-off oral chemotherapies. The first time she went off chemo, many of her problematic side effects subsided. But several months later, the leukemia made another advance and she had to go back on the oral chemo, albeit at a lower dosage. In April 2015, testing showed a 0 level. Doctors informed the Browns that Malena will probably have to take oral chemo for life or the dormant leukemia could strengthen.

As for joining the registry and being a match, all members of the Brown family have been registered. Malena’s sister, Dorianna, and brother, Tre, matched each other, but they didn’t match Malena. That’s not unusual. The vast majority of patients (70 percent) in need of bone marrow transplants do no find matches within their own family and rely on the Be the Match Registry®.

For information and to register, go to Baylor Scott & White’s website which includes answers to many questions such as:

  • Am I Eligible to Join the Registry?
  • How to Join the Registry
  • Testing Used to Determine Marrow Donor Compatibility
  • The Donation Process
  • What to Expect After Marrow Donation