GREENVILLE — Running through the hallways, her laughter echoing off the walls as she and other children played joyfully with their imaginations running wild, nine-year-old Bree Town’s smile reached from ear to ear Saturday as she played with friends the way every young child her age so deserves.
But not long ago, Bree’s innocent freedom of playing in the hallways had been stripped from her as she was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) last year.
AML is a cancer that attacks the myeloid line of blood and is usually found in adults.
After months of chemotherapy and countless hours in recovery centers and hospitals, Bree managed to battle away the disease and is now returning to as normal a life as she can nearly one year later as the cancer is in remission.
For Bridgette Devine, 14, of Sparta, the story has not turned out with the same favorable ending.
Both girls were diagnosed on the same day, May 1, with the same form of cancer. Since meeting each other in the hospital, the two girls have since shared a bond unlike any other, challenging and supporting each other through their battles against cancer over the past year.
Unfortunately, for Bridgette, her cancer relapsed, and now she is depending on a bone marrow transplant in hopes of recovery.
It is situations like the ones that face Bree and Bridgett that had Baldwin Heights Parent Teacher Organization President Ann Harvey so eager to host a bone marrow drive in the school’s cafeteria.
“I thought it would be a really good way for Baldwin Heights to get involved and help out,” Harvey said. “We’re all a family here at Baldwin, and this is a way to actually do something to help. If one of our children is hurting, if affects all of us.”
The bone marrow drive, which was held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., turned out better than Harvey expected.
Gift of Life, an organization designed to test as many volunteers as possible to match them with patients suffering from illness, donated supplies to the event.
“Our goal was 50 people,” she said. “They usually find one match for every 200 donations, and it would be an honor if we got 100 people.”
By the end of the day, 101 people arrived at the elementary school to have their cheeks swabbed for DNA, with 97 people qualified to do so.
Qualified participants had to be between 18 and 60 years old and in overall good health to participate in the cheek-swabbing event.
“The samples will be sent off today, and we are crossing our fingers that one of those might be a match for some person in need,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be great if someone from our bone marrow drive saved a life? We are hopeful.”
Bridgett’s parents, Richelle and Rob Devine, who attended the event on behalf of their daughter, who is currently in the hospital, could hardly put into words how much it meant to see a community become so involved in potentially saving a life.
“We’re always happy to see people come out for something like this because there are people all around the world that somebody might be able to donate their bone marrow to,” Rob Devine said.
“Without these kind of drives, we probably wouldn’t have found a match for Bridgett,” Richelle Devine said.
According to the Devines, the process for finding a match for Bridgette was a painful one, as the first match who was accepted for Bridgette eventually backed out of the transplant for unknown reasons.
“She’d already be in recovery if the first donor had gone through with it,” Rob Devine said. “There could be somebody else who could be in our shoes and their donor could end up being someone here today. You just have to keep moving forward.”
Another perfect match for Bridgett was discovered and Rob said the family is hopeful everything will turn out favorably for their daughter this time around.
“She’s had her sixth round of chemotherapy and she’s in recovery from that,” he said. “Hopefully, another 18 days or so and she’ll be out for about a week and then she’ll go in for her seventh round and her bone marrow transplant.”
For Jennifer Town, Bree’s mother, the bone marrow event weighs heavy on her heart.
“This is how I feel love and support,” she said. “Money doesn’t matter as much to me as blood and and bone marrow does to me now. If Bree relapses, she’ll have to have a bone marrow transplant, and AML is a very high relapse leukemia. The two girls were diagnosed on the same day and Bridgette has already relapsed.”
As the day wound down and people continued to trickle in in the final minutes of the drive, Baldwin Heights Elementary Librarian Kathy Maguire said she was proud and hopeful, after having her cheeks swabbed, that at least one person on the day could potentially turn out to be a match for someone in need.
“The suffering that the Town family has had to go through has pulled a community, schools and churches together,” she said. “There’s been so many events to help this family, and then to help other people. They are just so inspiring.”
For those who were unable to attend Saturday’s event but would still like the chance to donate, visit www.giftoflife.org/give.