Bone marrow transplant is an unfortunate term for a simple procedure that can be as painless as donating blood. Misconceptions about it make it difficult to find donors. The other hurdle is identifying a donor that matches the patient. Fortunately, there is now a convenient way to determine if a donor is compatible. All it takes is a ten-second swab of the inside of your mouth.
Be the Match is a non-profit organization that is using swab results to compile a registry of potential donors. They are trying to get dentists and other health care providers to offer the test. I found out about it at the Oak Park office of my Forest Park dentist, Joseph Lepkowski DDS.
Dr. Joe is so gentle, even patients with a pathological fear of dental work (like me) feel safe in his chair. He is also a supporter of worthy causes. When Be the Match representative Lauren Johnson approached him about the swab program, Dr. Joe instantly signed up. So far, he is the only participating dentist in this area.
Lauren also arranged for me to meet a patient on the waiting list. LaNyah Aldridge is an 11 year-old who was born with Sickle Cell Anemia. LaNyah may look like the “princess” she sometimes pretends to be but her disease has taken a severe toll on her and her family.
When she was eight, LaNyah suffered a stroke and the onset of seizures. She underwent eleven hours of brain surgery but the stroke weakened her right side and cost her the vision in her right eye. Thanks to her sparkling personality and indomitable spirit, though, LaNyah is still the embodiment of a precocious middle schooler.
I met LaNyah and her family at their Park Forest home. They have set up Nyah’s Foundation of Hope (NFOH) a non-profit that raises money for cancer patients and other charitable causes. The foundation also promotes Be the Match events to register donors, like “A Luau for LaNyah” in Chicago Heights. Closer to home, donors can join the registry at the Oak Park Public Library, on June 21, from 11:00 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
LaNyah’s grandmother, Loretta Aldridge, described the struggles her granddaughter faces, like undergoing grueling physical therapy to regain use of her right side. LaNyah is proud that she now knows how to write with either hand. She also completed a 5K bike ride, after grandma dropped out. LaNyah has periods of dystonia, though, when she is unable to speak. “I have good days and bad days,” LaNyah said gamely.
Bad days are when she undergoes monthly blood exchanges. Good days are when she’s taking her praise dance lessons, or helping at day care. LaNyah loves babies. She also loves the Disney Channel and was thrilled to go on a Disney Cruise. She’s found it exciting, as well, to make appearances on “Fox News” and “Windy City Live.”
LaNyah’s family has rallied around her but none of them can give the transplant that would end the torment of Sickle Cell. Her mother, Lorinda Aldridge, rises early to work as a bus aide but has missed many days to care for her youngest daughter. LaNyah’s uncle sleeps over every night, so that he can be there when LaNyah wakes up.
You can also be there for LaNyah at a Be the Match event at the Forest Park Public Library Sept. 27 from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. In the meantime, Dr. Joe is offering coupons for free cleanings and exams to any eligible donors (18-40 years old) who visit his Oak Park Dental Studio. LaNyah wanted me to thank Dr. Joe and all of you for trying to help.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.
This column has been updated to include the dates of the September Be the Match event at Forest Park Public Library.