Categories: Local News

Family seeks bone marrow match

A St. Albert couple is hopeful their five-year-old daughter will be matched with a lifesaving bone-marrow donor.

Halle Popowich was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia – a cancer of the bone marrow and blood – in mid-June.

After noticing a series of abnormal bruises on her legs and feet during bath time, parents Kurt and Deana Popowich decided to take Halle to the hospital. She was diagnosed with leukemia on June 15 and was in surgery the very next day.

She has since received two cycles of chemotherapy with a third on the way, but without a bone-marrow transplant, she has a five to 20 per cent chance of survival, Kurt said.

“It’s just not a very good prognosis for the type of leukemia that she has with just traditional chemotherapy,” he said. “A bone marrow transplant is necessary.”

If Halle receives a bone marrow transplant, her chance of survival will increase to 50 per cent.

None of Halle’s family members, including seven-year-old brother Chase, are bone-marrow matches, which means the Popowich family is relying on a complete stranger.

“That would be the biggest gift of all to us,” Kurt said. “It could be someone down the street, it could be someone in Europe that becomes a match. We just feel like even if Halle doesn’t find a match locally, it’ll save lives.”

They are waiting to hear back from the bone marrow registry, which takes four to six weeks.

“We are hoping, but we haven’t heard anything,” Kurt said, adding the family is now in its fourth week of waiting.

Canada’s bone marrow database – Canadian Blood Services’ OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network – matches patients with potential donors from around the world.

“It’s important to know that [donors]could be that one match that saves a life,” said spokesperson Olga Pazukha. “The opportunity that you’re given is truly a gift because you never know whose life you’re saving. You’re making an impact on their life, but you’re also making an impact on the life of their family and their community and everything that’s around them.”

Individuals interested in becoming a donor can register at www.onematch.ca. After completing a brief health questionnaire, a swab kit will be mailed to the individual to collect DNA, which will be entered into the database.

When a match is found, a donation can be made either through a specialized blood donation or a bone marrow harvest, depending what the patient requires.

The harvest removes a sample of bone marrow from the back of the hip-bone and is performed under general anesthetic. Donors may experience minor discomfort following the donation but are back to normal in a few days, Pazukha said.

Halle’s diagnosis has inspired several family members to add their names to the donor list, Kurt said.

“It’s not only Halle that’s looking for a bone-marrow donor,” he said. “If more people knew about it, there might be more people willing to put their names forward or sign up to be a match.”

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