Blood and stem cell drive to benefit Brock student

Daniel Checa is in need of a stem cell donor so she can undergo a transplant to help her recover from severe aplastic anemia and myelodysplasia.

Daniela Checa is in need of a stem cell donor so she can undergo a transplant to help her recover from severe aplastic anemia and myelodysplasia.

It wasn’t the fatigue that gave it away.

Even the dizziness she felt didn’t tip off Daniela Checa that her health had taken a potentially deadly turn.

Just finishing her first year as a concurrent education student at Brock last spring, Checa chalked up how she felt to end-of-term stress brought on by the onslaught of exams and assignments she had to tackle.

But it was feeling out of breath that Checa, who did competitive dance, couldn’t explain. And when she fell down the stairs at home because her hands and feet were “numbing randomly,” she started doubting her initial hunch that it was stress.

The dark bruises that would appear on her body didn’t put her mind at ease, either.

“I started realizing my body wasn’t behaving normally,” Checa recalled.

Soon after, so, too, did her doctors. Checa was diagnosed last June with severe aplastic anemia and myelodysplasia, both rare and serious disorders that affect the bone marrow’s production of health red or white blood cells, and platelets. Both are illnesses that leave those they affect prone to frequent infections, excessive bleeding, fatigue, weakness and fevers.

The scholarship-winning student had only one concern, though, as her doctor hurled treatment options, including chemotherapy, radiation and a stem cell transplant, at her.

“My first question to my doctor was about school,” Checa, 19, recalled. “I’m pretty nerdy and I really like going to Brock.”

That’s when the news became even grimmer. Checa would need at least a year off to try to fight off an illness that has relatively little known about it. Leaving school felt like losing her identity, she said.

Since getting her diagnosis, Checa has undergone chemotherapy and several blood transfusions to try to get her blood cell counts back to a normal level. They haven’t budged.

Now, she’s desperate to find her perfect match in a stem cell donor so that she can have a transplant, get healthy and return to Brock. Finding that person could make the difference between life and death for Checa.

To help in her quest, a professor in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences and a group of students have come together to find Checa a donor.

Led by Prof. Evangelia Tsiani the students are hosting a One Match event on Friday, Jan. 24 to find those stem cells that could change her future for the better.

Determining who could be a potential donor is a quick and painless process, Tsiani explained.

“The process is not invasive,” she said. “There are no needles involved. You’re using a cotton swab and you’re asked to rub the swab against the inside of your cheek to give your DNA sample.

“The chances to become a donor are very low but if you are a match you can save a life,” she added.

The drive, which includes a blood donor clinic, happens from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in the Ian Beddis Gym, court 4. Potential donors are encouraged to make an appointment online with Canadian Blood Services or by calling 1-888-2DONATE (366283).

Having her school rally around her has buoyed Checa, who admits to sometimes feeling depressed about her situation.

This latest drive for a donor is one of several attempts that either Checa or someone else has made to get her healthy again. Last fall, she and her family began their search, using social media to encourage people to get their cheeks swabbed and register with OneMatch.

Every day since beginning her search, her inbox has been flooded with hundreds of messages of encouragement from around the world – something that helps chase away the negative thoughts that take hold.

She has also started journaling to help her through the wait.

“I realized I could stay a victim or fight and go on from there,” Checa said.

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