A Cape Town toddler hopes to win the hearts of Mzansi in a desperate attempt to save her life. The 14-month-old Gracelyn “Gracey” Green from Atlantis was diagnosed with juvenile myelomonocytic leukaemia, a rare cancer of the blood that affects young children. Her only chance of survival is a stem cell transplant.
“Gracey” has been classified as an emergency transplant case. “This means that there is no time to waste,” the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) head of patient services Zaahier Isaacs stressed.
The SABMR was founded in 1991 with the single mission of saving lives, Isaacs added. Despite its over 30-year existence, he furthermore revealed that people of colour remain heavily underrepresented on the registry. This made it difficult for patients with a diverse heritage to find a matching donor.
Can anybody help Gracey?
“Gracey has already lost so much at a young age,” said her father, Lorenzo Erasmus. Her mother, Shanique Green, died in June 2021 in a fire that destroyed the family’s home in Atlantis.
Minutes before her last breath, she handed Gracey to a bystander through the window and went back to try save her grandmother, but this proved fatal, Erasmus recounted.
Gracey has already endured three blocks of chemotherapy that have been unsuccessful. She was diagnosed last August. It took a long time to come to terms with the death of Shanique, and the news of his daughter’s illness has proven to be an even harder reality to bear.
Her aunt, Lizel Solomons, said symptoms first appeared in July last year when she noticed Gracey’s unusually swollen tummy. “That’s when I knew something was terribly wrong.”
After a GP examined her, an ambulance was dispatched, and they were rushed to the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.
“This can either happen suddenly or can be associated with other genetic disorders in some children. In Gracey’s case, it’s linked to the former,” she explained. “Since the diagnosis, she’s been on several chemotherapy drugs to slow the spread of cancer cells and have undergone chemo without any improvement, so now our only hope is a stem cell transplant.”
SAMBR is facilitating the process of finding a match for Gracey. “My plea is to everyone in our community to help find a donor for our little angel. There’s a match waiting for Gracey, but time is running out. We need every single person who can, to register as a donor. If anyone deserves a second chance, Gracey does,” said Solomons.
‘People of colour underrepresented’
In most cases, family members, especially siblings are generally most suitable matches Isaacs explains. But even then only 30% of patients are lucky enough to find a suitable match among their relatives. “That’s why we must cast the net wider to the public to find the best possible match,” said Isaacs.
“Due to the family’s financial circumstances, all testing and collection of stem cells will be funded via the SABMR’s Patient Assistance Programme, so they don’t need to be burdened further with any medical expenses. Everything is in place, now we just need a donor match. It’s so easy to register as a donor and only takes a cheek swab to test if you’re a possible match all free of charge.”
Isaacs added that Gracey’s chance of finding a match is about one in 100 000. “The likelihood of people from mixed ethnic backgrounds finding a successful match is a mere 37% compared to patients from European descent whose chances are 72%. Anyone in good health, between the ages of 16 and 45 can register.”