Tara Simkins knows the importance of registering with the National Marrow Donor Program. The second of the four bone marrow transplants her son, Brennan, has received to help him battle leukemia came from a stranger through that registry.
For those like Brennan battling leukemia and other blood disorders “the only hope they have for a cure is a new immune system” from that transplant, she said.
An organization co-founded by Brennan’s family, Press On To Cure Childhood Cancer Fund, is working with medical students at Georgia Health Sciences University and other organizations on Wednesday to sign up more people to be potential donors. It is particularly important for minorities, who are not well-represented on the registry, Simkins said. And she has seen the perils of that firsthand.
“I can tell you of at least two children from our area that our family got to know who were both African-American and, after waiting for a match that never came to be, they both passed away,” Simkins said. “So it is really important.”
Brad Wills also has seen the importance of bone marrow donation. A neighbor growing up in Snellville, Ga., was battling childhood cancer.
“What ended up saving his life is he had a bone marrow transplant,” said the second-year student at Medical College of Georgia at GHSU. “Ever since then, it has been something that has been relevant to me and something that I cared about.”
The students were also inspired after hearing about Brennan through his grandmother, Susan Rice, Wills said.
“His journey through this whole process and the battle he has put up is just incredible,” he said. “It’s impressive.”
And it is not over. Simkins spoke by phone Monday from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., where Brennan was taken recently after a battle with a cold virus triggered some latent viruses in his body and caused an overreaction by his new immune system.
“Everybody agreed we should be back where they deal with this every day,” Simkins said. “So we’re back here, and he is getting better again. There is no leukemia. Now we’re just dealing with the cure.
“He’s cleared the virus and, now, we just need to get his immune system to calm down. He’s doing great.”