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Matchmaker: West Point toddler needs bone marrow transplant

January 18, 2019

WEST POINT, Miss. (AP) — One-year-old Mason Murphy is full of smiles, quick with a game of peek-a-boo and ready to drive toy cars across the coffee table.

He bounces back and forth between his mom, Alicia Cherry, and dad, Marcus Murphy, with all the confidence of a well-loved child.

But for nearly a year, the West Point toddler has fought to grow, and will need a bone marrow transplant to have the best chance to thrive. The family is just beginning the process of testing to see if there is a match for Mason among his relatives. Cherry and Murphy also want to stand with others who depend on the Bone Marrow Registry and advocate for more people to join get tested as potential bone marrow donors.

“I know it’s not only my child going through this,” said Marcus Murphy, who played quarterback for West Point High School and just finished his first season playing defensive safety and cornerback for the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

For those who don’t have a match within their families, a donor through the registry is their only hope.

“It’s in the hands of normal people out there to cure them,” said Alicia Cherry, who is preparing to return to her nursing studies at East Mississippi Community College.

BE THE MATCH

The process of joining the registry and donation is much simpler than people realize, said Rachel Harris, who works with community engagement in the Southeast for the Bone Marrow Registry.

Potential donors between the ages of 18 and 44 apply for a kit at bethematch.org. They take a swab of the inside of their cheek and send it back.

If they are a match for someone who needs a bone marrow transplant, the donation process is relatively simple.

“It’s a very similar process to donating platelets or red blood cells,” Harris said.

African-Americans and other minority groups are underrepresented in the registry.

“We need more donors with diverse ancestry to increase the odds,” Harris said.

Potential donors can use https://join.bethematch.org/MasonJeremiah to sign up in Mason’s name.

TOUGH YEAR

When Mason was 7-months-old, his family became concerned that he wasn’t growing as he should. Mason only weighed 11 pounds; he was born full term weighing 5 pounds.

“He wasn’t meeting his developmental milestones,” Cherry said. “He wasn’t sitting up or crawling.”

In March 2018, Mason was diagnosed with a genetic abnormality; he was born without Chromosome 7, which put him at risk of myelodysplastic syndrome - where red blood cells are poorly formed and don’t function well - and acute myeloid leukemia.

At the time, it appeared his bone marrow was still normal, and doctors started working to address the failure to thrive issues. Mason continued to struggle over the next six months.

“He was sick for months on end,” Cherry said. “He was not getting better.”

In October, the family ended up at Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center in Memphis, and doctors checked his bone marrow again. This time, it showed signs of myelodysplastic syndrome, and he was transferred to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Mason will need a bone marrow transplant to correct the problem with his red blood cells.

Things have improved for Mason in the past few months, his parents say. Supplemental feeding through a nasal-gastric tube has helped him grow, Cherry said. He is crawling well and moving toward walking.

“A few months ago, you wouldn’t know it’s the same baby,” Cherry said.

Mason’s parents have leaned on their families, friends and faith to get through the past year.

“I don’t know what we would do without them,” Cherry said.

The Mississippi State family is coming together to support Mason, too. The football team is planning an event later this spring to encourage more people to sign up for the registry.

“They’ve already started a drive,” Murphy said.

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, http://djournal.com

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