Typically, eight-year-old Piper Sousa would have the energy level that only seems to be found in young children — boundless and seemingly endless. But lately, her energy has been devoted to fighting a rare blood disorder, and now she and her family are hoping the public can help her in this fight.
Piper has been diagnosed with aplastic anemia and her doctors have said her best chances at making a lasting recovery is to undergo a bone marrow transplant. On Saturday, her family is hosting a bone marrow drive with the hopes they will find a matching donor.
Aplastic anemia is caused by damaged stem cells that fail to produce new blood cells. It can occur at any age and can be either mild or severe and short-lived or chronic. The symptoms, when present, can include fatigue, easy bleeding and bruising, a rash, headaches and a fever. People with aplastic anemia run a higher risk of contacting serious infections, because their immune system is not operating as it should.
For Piper, her symptoms were few and hard to separate from just her normal life. A student at Our Lady of Fatima in Modesto, Piper was busy in cheerleading and various dance classes. The bruises she suddenly seemed to have were chalked up to practices. During the holidays she was performing in “The Nutcracker” at the Gallo Center for the Arts as one of the Bon-Bons.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, Piper woke up with a skin rash called petechiae, and immediately her mother, Jennifer Sousa, knew it was something more than just some bruises.
“I just had a gut feeling that something was not right,” Sousa said.
Piper was hospitalized that day after a blood test showed her red and white blood cells and platelets were abnormally low. A bone marrow biopsy was performed and it ruled out leukemia, which Sousa said was a relief to hear, but it was still worrisome to not have a final diagnosis.
That came about five weeks later, when they learned she had aplastic anemia and that she had less than 10 percent of the bone marrow she needs. She had been getting weekly blood transfusions, but now the doctors believe her best chance is a bone marrow transplant.
In a family that includes three siblings, Piper’s best option is from her younger brother, who has a one-in-four-chance of matching. The test has been done and the family is awaiting the results, but the doctors advised them not to wait and to move forward with finding a possible match.
The bone marrow drive is open to individuals between the ages of 18 to 44 years. The process only takes about 15 minutes and involves a cheek swab.
The bone marrow drive will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Winton-Ireland, Strom and Green Insurance Agency at 627 E. Canal Drive in Turlock. An additional drive is set for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic School at 505 W. Granger Ave., in Modesto.
“I’ve learned that this can happen to anyone and you never know whose life you might be able to save,” Sousa said.
Piper, who has had to miss much of her school and social activities, is eager to get back to her routines and friends and has one special occasion coming up that she hopes not to miss — her first communion.
For more information about the bone marrow drive and to register, visit join.bethematch.org.