Girl in fight for her life needs stem cell donor
'It's very critical that we get people out and get on that [donor] registry,' girl's grandfather says
- Later in May, the family confirmed that a stem cell match for Julia Miller has been found.
The family of a 13-year-old girl fighting for her life after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer is trying to raise awareness of the need for stem cell donors.
Julia Miller was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in March 2018, underwent treatment and was doing much better, and then relapsed earlier this year. She now needs a stem cell transplant.
"It's the gift of life for so many people," said Morris Cybulski, Miller's grandfather.
"It's very critical that we get people out and get on that registry."
AML develops in blood stem cells — basic cells that can form one of three types of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets.
With this type of leukemia, the stem cells develop abnormally and are overproduced, overtaking normal blood cells and stopping them from working properly.
Disease changed everything
Before the disease took hold, Miller was an active girl who loved to ride horses and play hockey. She competed competitively for the Kanata Rangers, Cybulski said, and went to Holy Trinity High School.
At first, she started to feel weak, tired and nauseated. Her doctors checked for everything from a virus to anemia as she progressively got worse, Cybulski said.
Multiple blood tests later, her family got a phone call saying CHEO was waiting for her to come in, he said.
That was March 1, 2018.
Over the next six months, she underwent 94 chemotherapy treatments and 60 blood transfusions, but she never gave up.
She had a motto while in the hospital: "You may see me struggle, but you'll never see me quit," her grandfather recalled.
Needs a stem cell transplant
Last fall, they thought she had beat the disease, but then she relapsed earlier this year.
Doctors found a mass on part of her brain and she had to go to The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto to have the tumour removed, Cybulski said.
She's now back at CHEO and has to undergo a month of radiation and other treatment.
"You hate to see anybody go through that, especially a child, but boy, she's got spunk," he said.
Despite it all, she refuses to give up, he said. "She's a fighter."
About 700 people across Canada are waiting to find a stem cell match, according to Canadian Blood Services. Less than 25 per cent of people who need a transplant are matched with someone in their own family, meaning they mostly rely on strangers.
Donors must be between the ages of 17 and 35, and generally in good health without any infectious diseases and certain conditions, including cancer and blood diseases. They must also be willing to donate to anyone, not just someone they know.
Ethnic diversity is also important. Patients and donors are more likely to match if they share the same ethnic background, according to the agency.
Along with health information, a cheek swab is collected to see if a person's stem cells are compatible with anyone waiting for a transplant.
A stem cell swabbing event held in Kanata on Monday resulted in 117 people registering to be stem cell donors.
Canadian Blood Services is holding another event at the Renfrew Legion at 30 Raglan St. S, on Wednesday between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.