'Like finding a needle on the bottom of the ocean': Local teen finds perfect bone marrow match
EDMONTON -- Thirteen months old with her health deteriorating in an orphanage in China, Hosanna Crowell was introduced to a Canadian couple, Greg and Cathy Crowell, who would prove to be game changers in her life.
"I remember when they first handed her to us in the orphanage and we looked at her and she had such determination and this frail, little body," remembers Cathy Crowell. "She was sucking her two little fingers, looking around and taking it all in. I said to my husband, she's a fighter."
Now 14, Hosanna has never stopped fighting. Born with a heredity condition called Beta Thalissemia Major, her bone marrow produces deformed blood cells, preventing oxygen from sticking to them. Without the blood of donors, her organs would be starved of oxygen. Every two weeks she visits the Stollery Children's Hospital where she receives her transfusions. To date, she's had 286. But with other people's blood, comes complications. Each night she's given intravenous drugs over 11 hours to keep her body working.
"Right now it's becoming a burden to me," says Hosanna Crowell. "I have to get poked so much my veins are becoming really scar tissued and it's starting to be really hard to find spots."
The only cure is a stem cell transplant. "In terms of any individual, a sibling will have a one-in-four chance of being a match for any individual," says pediatric hematologist Dr. Catherine Corriveau-Borque.
The journey to find a match has been years in the making. "It's like finding a needle on the bottom of the ocean. It's way harder than in a haystack," according to Crowell.
A post on the Chinese version of Facebook garnered a lot of attention, viewed more than 27 million times. "The process was quite something and then seeing the response from China with so many people and it going viral... wow," recounts Crowell from her Stony Plain home. "The kindness of strangers just so impacted us."
The posts reached Hosanna's biological family. Her mother and father as well as two siblings came forward, did the DNA testing and underwent a procedure to see if there was a match. "Yes," says Hosanna Crowell, "one of my siblings is a perfect match."
A stem cell transplant is now scheduled for late 2021. The cost to make this happen sits around $80,000 to cover incidentals such as travel visas, transportation, accommodation and COVID-19 testing. A GoFundMe campaign is a quarter of the way there.
"Really we're just trying to jump through all the little hoops to get them here," Crowell adds. "This is an amazing thing that's happened, we've been given a gift for our daughter and we're very grateful. I also feel for people who are waiting for a donor and so I just encourage people to go and get tested, it's a simple thing. You can change someone's life forever."