VENICE, Fla. (WFLA) — Each and every year, approximately 12,000 people battling blood cancers, such as leukemia, turn to Be the Match to find a donor who can offer them blood stem cells or bone marrow that can potentially cure them of blood cancer. This year, 5-year-old Aiden Espinoza is one of those individuals.
The young boy from Venice was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, on June 1. He is currently at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg going through his second round of chemotherapy.
His family says he falls into the “high risk” category of the disease and desperately needs a transplant to help save his life.
“Unfortunately, he falls in the high-risk category and they go straight to bone marrow transplant in that situation,” his mother Erin Espinoza explained. “He needs a donor that is a 10 out of 10 match for the HLA and unfortunately, his sister is only four out of 10 for him.”
No one in his family is a perfect match, so they’re counting on help from the public. Espinoza explains because of her son’s Hispanic heritage and mixed background, finding a match can be challenging.
Erica Sevilla with Be the Match says finding a match is far more complex than finding a blood match.
“We are essentially looking for someone who is like a genetic twin,” said Sevilla.
With HLA markers, ethnicity plays a role in finding a match.
“We have a lot of matches each year but, unfortunately for somebody of Hispanic descent, they are likely going to find a match about 50% of the time whereas somebody who is Caucasian will find a match 79% of the time,” explained Sevilla. “What that means is we need everybody to join the Be the Match registry. We need individuals of all diverse backgrounds and especially individuals who are mixed-race, because that is going to be even harder to find that match.”
Sevilla explains the process of becoming a donor is simple.
“It only takes a simple cheek swab to do that. They are just they are like Q-tips and it is not a painful swab. You just swab the inside of your cheek, you register online at bethematch.org and you will submit your swab kit and then you’ll be on the registry,” she said.
Sevilla explains 85% of donations involve no surgery at all and the process is similar to donating plasma.
Only about 15% of the time, donors will be asked to donate liquid marrow, she says. That is extracted from behind your hip bones and is a procedure done under anesthesia.
“Typically, there might be a single night stay in the hospital and individuals might feel some soreness in their lower back and most, on average, recover fully back to their normal activities and exercising within 21 days,” said Sevilla.
To join the registry, you must be between 18 and 40 years of age. Be the Match says it is free of charge.
“There is no cost to become a donor. Be the Match will cover all of the expenses related to any of the check ups, the tests and then the actual procedure itself. In addition, if you have to travel for your donation, we will reimburse expenses such as childcare, pet care or if there is some lost wages, we can reimburse you for that,” said Sevilla.
Those interested in helping Aiden, can text AIDENSTRONG to 61474 to register for a swab kit in addition to visiting bethematch.org.