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Katie shows Family Services and Child Life, her drawing of GetWellNetwork

Little did a college student in California know that a simple swab of her cheek could save the life of patient with cancer she didn't even know. But it did. This is the story of Katie Thomson, a Cook Children's patient, who's currently in remission from acute lymphoblastic leukemia and her new chance at life.

Eleven-year-old Katie Thomson came home from school with a fever one Friday afternoon in January 2015 and spent the weekend feeling worn out and not acting like herself. Her parents didn't think much of it until her mom, Jessica, noticed some strange bruising on her body.

"My heart sank. I knew something was really wrong," Jessica explained.

They rushed Katie to Cook Children's and soon she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

From the start, it seemed as though her fight against cancer would be an uphill battle. A series of complications forced Katie to stay in the hospital for more than two months before she could go home. During that time, she endured chemotherapy, radiation treatments, a feeding tube and multiple infections.

As soon as she achieved remission, Katie received a bone marrow transplant to replace her unhealthy cells with healthy donor cells. Katie's doctor explained it to her like this, "Your bones are a garden and your marrow is the soil. We're going to get rid of the old soil and give you new soil."

It seemed quite fitting that Katie's bone marr ow transplant ended up happening on Earth Day, of all days!

Katie spent 22 days recovering in the bone marrow transplant unit and another 100 days in isolation at home to protect her fragile immune system. Since then, she has regular clinic visits every six months, is back in school after spending a year away and has been medicine-free for several months.

She hit another big milestone at the oneyear post-transplant mark, as this is the required waiting period to learn the name of her bone marrow donor. Jessica said, "We haven't met, but I can't think of her without choking up. I loved her, even when I didn't know her name."

The Thomsons were excited to learn about Allison, the person who saved their daughter's life. Allison was a 21-year-old college student when she attended a blood drive in California and Be The Match® representatives asked if she also wanted to get on the bone marrow donor registry.

Allison said to herself, "Sure, why not? There's probably a small chance that I'll be a match, but I'd rather sign up in case I might be able to help someone."

All it took was one quick cheek swab, and low and behold, she received the call about two years later saying that she was a match - Katie's match! Allison was in and out of her surgery within a few hours and immediately her bone marrow was on a plane to Texas to be given to Katie the next day.

"For me to go through a small amount of pain and a week of healing, in order to give Katie another chance at life, I don't see why anyone wouldn't want to do that." And, Katie's mom echoes Allison's passion for the bone marrow donor registry, "I want the whole world to get on the registry."

Behind the scenes of the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit

When a patient is first admitted to the BMT Unit, they receive a high-dose of chemo for approximately five to seven days to wipe out the diseased bone marrow, creating a clean slate for the new cells to grow. Usually, the day after the last dose of chemo, the patient receives the transplanted cells. The transplant process looks a lot like a blood transfusion – a bag of cells hangs from an IV pole and is pumped into the patient's vein. The patient stays in the BMT unit long enough for their new cells to start growing and dividing and for their white blood cell count to be high enough that they can fight some germs. Families are told to prepare for six to eight weeks, but it could be more or less. Cook Children's BMT program started in 1986 and has completed more than 1,000 transplants.

To find out more about how you can become a bone marrow donor or support our programming, call 682-885-4105.

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