Gracey needs emergency stem-cell transplant

Fourteen-month-old Gracelyn Green needs a stem-cell transplant.

The Observatory-based South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) is appealing to the public to get tested to help 14-month-old Gracelyn Green receive a stem-cell transplant.

The 14-month-old from Atlantis, who is also called Gracey, was diagnosed with juvenile myelomonocytic leukaemia (JMML), a rare cancer of the blood that affects young children, and her only chance of survival is a stem-cell transplant.

Gracey is classified as an “emergency transplant case”, which means there’s no time to waste, says the acting head of patient services for the SABMR, Zaahier Isaacs.

The SAMBR is imploring people of colour to get tested to see if they could be a possible stem-cell match.

“In most cases, family members, especially siblings, are generally most suitable, but even then, only 30% of patients are lucky enough to find a suitable match among their relatives. That’s why we must cast the net wider to the public to find the best possible match.”

A match could be found in any race group, as mixed-race people have shared genetics from all over the world, but chances are usually better with the same “genetic demographic”, he says.

“Brave little Gracey has already endured three blocks of chemotherapy that have been unsuccessful. She was diagnosed last August, and time is running out. We are relying on the kindness of a stranger to come to her aid.”

Even at her young age, Gracey has lost a lot already. Her mother, Shanique Green, died last June in a fire at the family’s home in Atlantis.

Her father, Lorenzo Erasmus, says it took a long time to come to terms with Shanique’s death and then to hear the devastating news of Gracey’s illness was just too much to bear.

“Doctors aren’t certain how long she will live without a transplant, but our focus right now is to find the best match. The better the match, the better her survival rate after the procedure.”

Gracey’s aunt, Lizel Solomons, says Gracey’s symptoms first appeared in July last year when she noticed the child’s unusually swollen tummy. “After a general practitioner examined her, an ambulance was dispatched, and they were rushed to the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital,” she says.

“A series of tests showed that Gracey had an enlarged spleen, liver and lymph nodes, which eventually led to a JMML diagnosis. It happens when certain white blood cells, called monocytes and myelocytes, don’t mature as they should,” she says.

Ms Solomons is making a plea to the public to help find a donor for Gracey. “There’s a match waiting for Gracey, but time is running out. We need every single person who can, to register as a donor. If anyone deserves a second chance, Gracey does.”

According to the SABMR, people of colour are heavily under-represented in the registry and it is therefore much more difficult for patients with a diverse ethnic heritage to find a matching donor.

Mr Isaacs says Gracey’s chance of finding a match is about one in 100 000, but the SABMR remains hopeful.

“The likelihood of people from mixed ethnic backgrounds finding a successful match is a mere 37% compared to patients from European descent whose chances are 72%,” he says.

Mr Isaacs says the procedure to donate stem cells is non-invasive and it takes less than a few minutes to sign up at sabmr.co.za. “Anyone in good health, between the ages of 16 and 45 can register,” he says.

Those living in Cape Town and surrounds are encouraged to sign up at a special donor drive that will be held for Gracey on Saturday February 26 at the Atlantis City Mall, Wesfleur Circle, Atlantis, from 10am to 4pm. If you can’t make the donor driver, but want to become a donor, contact the SABMR at 021 447 8638 or email donors@sabmr.co.za. Financial donations can also be made toward the registry’s patient assistance programme at www.sabmr.co.za/donate