Friends and family of Kyle Markes, an 11-year-old Stamford boy who has been battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia since his diagnosis in November, are hosting three bone marrow registration drives in hopes of finding a match for him.
The first drive takes place Sunday at Grace Baptist Church, 17 West Ave., Norwalk, from 1 to 4 p.m. The following weekend, friends are hosting one on Saturday, July 27, from 1 to 2 p.m. at Brooklyn Baby Cakes, 506 Nostrand Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y., and on Sunday, July 28, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, 42 Cross Road, Stamford.
After being in remission for a little while, Kyle's family recently learned his cancer has aggressively returned, and he needs a bone marrow donation as part of his treatment at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
"It came back like a tempest," said Kyle's mother, Jackqueline Markes. When he began feeling ill, she said the family "hoped he just pulled a muscle," but a biopsy revealed malignant cells in his bone marrow two weeks ago. He has been in the hospital since then.
"It was a horrible feeling," Markes said.
Kyle's original diagnosis with ALL, the most common form of childhood leukemia, was in November, when he returned home from school one evening and told his mother he felt as if he was "dying." After a battery of tests, the then 10-year-old was diagnosed early the next morning. He left New Canaan Country School for the rest of the school year for treatment.
He was in chemotherapy when the malignant cells were found, which is rare, Markes said, explaining that evidence of new malignant cells during that course of treatment is a sign of an incredibly aggressive cancer.
When The Advocate spoke with Kyle two months ago, when he was honored by classmates for his fighting spirit and optimism, Kyle said he had plans to return to school in the fall. But the young boy who cites Magic Johnson as one of his heroes, because the basketball player "did not just sit around" when he was diagnosed with HIV in 1991, is going to need help from his community to meet that goal.
"Kyle's Jamaican, so his donor would most likely have that ancestry as well," said Jennifer St. Peter of the Be The Match Registry at the Rhode Island Blood Center, which is running Kyle's bone marrow drives.
Of the 10.5 million registered bone marrow donors in America, only 7 percent -- or 720,000 -- are African American or black. Still fewer are Jamaican.
"Obviously, we want anyone to register, regardless of race, because there are needs for all racial and ethnic backgrounds," St. Peter said, noting that people have the opportunity to help one of the more than 12,000 patients per year who require a bone marrow transplant from someone outside their family.
Attending a drive is simple and painless.
"To register is just completing paperwork," said St. Peter. "Once the paperwork is done, they see one of our staff people and we make sure they know what they're signing up for and then after that, it's just one cheek swab."
The match registry is expediting the results of the upcoming drives due to Kyle's advanced state and the small pool of donors nationally, said Markes. If Kyle does not find a match in the next five weeks, he'll have to re-enter chemotherapy before continuing his search, since there can be no malignant cells in his system when he receives a donation.
"There's no cost to people signing up. It doesn't hurt, and it doesn't take long -- but you're saving someone's life, and it's not something to take lightly," Markes said, as she rode on a train bound for New Haven to see Kyle Thursday evening. "Really, it's as simple as that. A little blood, or some bone marrow, it can really save someone's life. Think about that."