St. Albert girl receives bone marrow transplant, but her journey isn't over yet

After months of searching for a bone marrow donor and finally finding one, a 12-year-old St. Albert girl underwent the procedure she desperately needed Wednesday.

Alex Pasichnyk found a donor after months of searching, and had the transplant Wednesday

Alex Pasichnyk, 12, could be cured of a rare blood disease if the cells from the transplant take, her father says. (Supplied/Lisa Paichnyk)

After months of searching for a bone marrow donor and finally finding one, a 12-year-old St. Albert girl underwent the procedure she desperately needed Wednesday.

Alex Pasichnyk received a bone marrow transplant in Calgary — something she has needed since she was diagnosed with a rare blood disease in June 2017.

She has severe aplastic anemia, which inhibits the body's ability to create sufficient, healthy blood cells.

Her story drew attention when her family started hosting bone marrow donor drives to find a match for Alex. They found one at the start of January.

If the transplant works, Alex will be cured.

"We don't know entirely if it was a success right now," Alex's father, Sheldon Pasichnyk told CBC News. "The only success part is that the transplant itself, her body didn't automatically reject [the cells]."

Now that the transfusion is done, Alex's family has to wait to see if the donor cells start producing healthy blood cells. Waiting will be difficult, Pasichnyk said, but the family is glad the transfusion finally happened.

Pasichnyk said the day of the procedure was a happy and emotional one. The family had FaceTime going on several different devices, with family members eager to see how Alex's transfusion went.

Several of Alex's family members called in during the procedure. (Supplied/Lisa Pasichnyk)

"During the transfusion and right before, she had a big smile on her face and she was pretty excited. She realizes that it's a really big deal for her and, you know, it's a life-changing thing," Pasichynk said.

Leading up to the procedure, Alex underwent a week of chemotherapy, radiation and immunosuppressive therapy to prepare her body to accept the foreign cells.

As a result, Pasichnyk said his daughter is sick to her stomach, has sores in her mouth and might lose her hair. But if she's cured of her disease, the discomfort could be worth it.

"For kind of the torture and pain that she's going through now, there's definitely some pretty good excitement ahead if things work out," he said.

A better quality of life

Part of that excitement includes the potential for Alex to go back to her normal life. If the transfusion works, Alex won't have to have blood transfusions every day, and she'll have significantly more energy, Pasichnyk said.

She'll be able to swim, play sports and go back to school for her Grade 7 year.

"It'll be a major, major life change for her," Pasichnyk said.

Alex Pasichnyk (second from the right) had her family to support her on the day of her bone marrow transplant. (Supplied/Lisa Pasichnyk)

That potential life change can be credited to Alex's bone marrow donor, but the family won't have a chance to thank them for a while.

"We don't get to know [who they are] for two years. In two years time, we can put in an application and they can decide whether or not they would like to meet up with us or not," Pasichnyk said.

"We're really thankful for everybody," he said, "and especially the donor that stepped up and gave our little girl a chance."