Photo source: WFTV 9 ABC
Chyanne Ojageer, a 14-year-old teenager from Kissimmee, Florida, became one of the youngest bone marrow donors in the state when she donated her own bone marrow to help save her mother’s life.
Neisha Ojageer, never in her wildest dreams thought that her daughter would be the person to save her life. “I was the walking dead. I was told I was the walking dead,” she said. Neisha was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma at the age of 28. She did not think that she would be able to have children; however, when she went into remission, she became pregnant with Chyanne. “Miracles happen again. This little girl was born,” said Neisha.
Chyanne donated after her mom's second bout of cancer
Unfortunately, after having given birth, Neisha’s cancer came back a second time and it put her in need of a bone marrow transplant. Being originally from Trinidad, doctors told her that there was no donor available within her racial background. Chyanne, wanting to save her mother’s life, offered to get tested to see if she could be a possible match for her mother. “You see people like me Indian, sometimes even Asian, Spanish, every culture does not donate or is not aware that they can donate or anything about stuff like this,” she said. “I have to save my mom's life, cause she has to be there for me when I grow up,” she added. After testing positive as a match, Chyanne donated her bone marrow to her mother and the transplant proved to be a success. “I broke down. I cried. I was so happy. I was saying that we're going to have a normal life,” she said.
Today, Chyanne is working hard to expand a bone marrow donation registry so that individuals in need of transplants can find their match. She works with BeTheMatch.org and helps send out kits to individuals to fill out donor forms and provide a cheek swab to determine their eligibility. Chyanne is also holding drives in hopes of raising awareness and encouraging individuals to sign up and donate. “If it's my family, I would donate. If it's a stranger, I would still donate cause they deserve another chance at life,” she said. “It was very worth it to have my mom here with me,” she added.
An organization to inspire other young adults
Chyanne hopes to be able to donate once again when she turns 18. For the meantime, she is starting an organization, known as “Youngest Bone Marrow Donor”, through which she hopes to inspire others to give back and become organ donors. “You're never too young to make a difference in the world and you're never too old to make a difference. You’ll always make a change in the world. Make a statement by getting people to make a statement with you,” said Chyanne.
Organs donors are limited, as there are far more individuals in need of a transplant than there are individuals willing to donate. In fact, most of the organs that do become available come from deceased donors. “The waiting time for a blood type O recipient in our region is five years for a deceased donor kidney,” said Dr. Kenneth Brayman, director of Transplant Services at UVA.
Another story of a young adult saving their mother's life
Similar to Chyanne’s story, Jessica Martin donated an organ to save her mother’s life – twice. “It wasn’t a big deal for me. People take for granted their organs. You have a liver to remove your toxins and a kidney to remove your toxins, but without them you die,” said Jessica. In 2004, Jessica gave a portion of her liver to her mother, Alicia Rowe, who had been suffering from Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, NASH affects 2-5% of Americans.
During a liver transplant, 40-60% of the liver is removed from the donor and transferred to the recipient. Alicia refused to put her daughter’s health at risk; however, she knew that without a liver transplant, her death would be imminent. “Really and truly, this is not a story, when she was born she was 9 pounds and 8 ounces and the minute I saw this child, I knew she was special. She never cried, she was just an angel of a baby. She’s always been that way,” said Alicia. Jessica noted that donating her liver allowed her mother to live on borrowed time. “She would’ve missed the birth of four of her grandchildren and my brother making it into the Hall of Fame for sports at Riverheads,” she said.
Although Alicia had been taking medications to keep her body from rejecting the donated organ, eventually, her kidneys failed and she was put on dialysis. “The biggest hurdle is coming to dialysis three times a week for 52 weeks a year. Treatments don’t stop unless they get a transplant or death, and they know that,” said Kim Deaver, a nurse manager for the UVA Dialysis Program. Other common problems include the inability to travel, especially during troubling weather, which can result in fatality when skipping too many treatments. “Fluids and toxins build up and people are at risk of cardiac arrest when they take longer weekend periods without a treatment,” said Deaver.
More donors are always needed
Deaver notes that most living donors are typically family members or loved ones like Jessica. Nowadays, there are several organizations such as Waitlist Zero and the National Kidney Foundation that are connecting living donors with individuals in need of transplants. Moreover, living donors can even donate a part of their intestine, lung, bone marrow, or blood. “It’s giving a part of your body away you don’t know if you will need later,” said Deaver.
A few days after Jessica donated a kidney to her mother, she was released from the hospital and made sure to post about her successful transplant on Facebook. “Hello everyone, just wanted to give you all an update I am doing great, in a little pain but not too bad. Mom is doing well too; my kidney is working great for her and she began producing urine right after she received it. None of this could've been possible without our good Lord's help. Thanks so much for all of the prayers and love you have sent our way. Love you all!!,” she wrote.
Today, over 123,000 individuals in the United States are waiting on an organ donation. Every 12 minutes, one more individual is added to the national waiting list. What’s more, on an annual basis, over 6,500 individuals pass away while waiting for an organ to become available. If you are considering becoming an organ donor, you can help comfort grieving families, as well as save or improve the lives of others.
Yet, it is important to take into consideration some important information:
- Any individual, at any age, can become an organ donor. However, anyone younger than 18 needs to have parental consent.
- An organ donation is not right for every individual because of health risks and medical restrictions involved. Therefore, you will need to undergo a medical assessment beforehand to determine if you are a good candidate.
- Having a severe condition such as cancer, kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, or HIV can prevent you from being able to donate. So, talk with a healthcare professional about your health status and any medications that you may be taking.