My turn: A stranger saved my son

By From page A4 | October 23, 2013

On April 1, 2009, I woke up with my 2-year-old like any other day — we had breakfast, played with toys, read a book and decided to go feed the ducks. What I didn’t know was that our day would take a sudden turn and the greatest trial of our lives’ to date would begin.

That afternoon his body became swollen and his demeanor lethargic. I drove him straight to the emergency room to confirm it was nothing major.

One blood draw later, my husband and I would find out that our son, our baby, our first-born, had cancer cells flooding his body. We were swiftly rushed to the Children’s Hospital and in one day began rapidly pumping chemotherapy into this little boy’s body.

Brayden received chemo for almost two years. Vigorously the doctors, the medicine and his little body fought to rid his bone marrow of the leukemic cells responsible for creating cancer cells in his blood.

Right before his fourth birthday, something told me to ask the doctors to perform another bone marrow test. And sure enough, one aspirate and one day later, our 3-year-old was diagnosed as a relapsed leukemia patient.

The doctors called us into their office to explain the next treatment. Up until now, we had heard how successful treatment was for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, how all his numbers and tests were pointing towards cure, but now I stared cancer in the face yet again. It was trying to steal my baby.

I didn’t realize it until after relapse, but reoccurring leukemia requires a bone marrow transplant because the leukemia can become resistant to the chemotherapy. When the word transplant came out of the doctor’s mouth, I almost fell out of my chair.

Was this really happening? Aren’t transplants dangerous? How did my once healthy boy get to this point?

The doctor attempted to soothe my nerves by telling me how “easy” it was to find bone marrow matches for Caucasian patients since most of the national registry has Caucasian donors.

So the next battle began.

Brayden was again admitted to the Children’s Hospital, this time high-dose chemotherapy began and the doctors were preparing for a bone marrow transplant in just a few months.

In the meantime, the case nurses were searching the bone marrow registry for Brayden’s match.

One month went by and we had zero matches. A weird outcome, considering the doctor’s original comments.

Two months went by and now we heard they would be searching the international bone marrow registry. The anxiety was building.

As we continued to battle the cancer, a few local churches, two universities, a small city and our community held bone marrow drives attempting to help us find a match.

More than 6,000 people had their DNA tested by swabbing the inside of their cheeks and sending it off to “Be the Match.”

We never found a match for Brayden.

We did however, find an umbilical cord that a mother had donated at delivery that was a great match. So, Brayden had his cord blood transplant on April 13, 2011. It was an ugly journey but full of tangible miracles.

He’s now 6 ½ years old and thriving.

We will always live with this three-year trial as an instant perspective regarding the important things of life and it will always drive the choices we make, the events we participate in and the activities we host.

It’s because of this that on Oct. 26, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Vintage Grace Church will be hosting a “Make a Difference Day” in connection with the National Make a Difference Day.

It’s a free family event at Marine Village Intermediate School, 1901 Francisco Drive in El Dorado Hills.

Attendees can Make a Difference by meeting the needs of the needy. There will be opportunities to donate blood, swab cheeks and register your DNA on the nation “Be the Match” bone marrow registry, donate clothes and donate canned food. It’s a great way to get the community involved in helping others.

As a thank you for donating; there will be free Starbucks, hotdogs, drinks, bounce houses and a raffle prize drawn every 15 minutes.

The organizers invite the community to Make a Difference. A stranger saved a baby’s life and you could be the stranger that saves another.

Jen Sodestrom is a mother, teacher, member of Vintage Grace Church and a resident of El Dorado Hills.

Special to the Democrat

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