Antonio Salazar is a 6-year-old boy who likes dancing, looking at books and blowing kisses to those he meets. He’s also been battling leukemia since he was two years old, but now thanks to a bone marrow transplant from his sister Estrella Isiordia, Antonio and the rest of his family are embracing the possibility of a much brighter future.
“I think what we’re looking forward to the most for him is living a normal life,” Isiordia said. “He loved getting on the bus and going to school. He loves being out and about and being social. We hope that he will be able to enjoy life again.”
Tony’s (as the family calls him) first diagnosis with leukemia came in 2014 and required a two-year course of chemotherapy. He was in remission in 2016, but then a check-up at Valley Children’s Hospital in 2017 led the family to a heartbreaking discovery: the cancer had returned and the doctors were not optimistic that chemotherapy would be enough this time. Their suggestion at what would give Tony the best odds at going into remission and staying there was a bone marrow transplant.
When people ask me, they usually ask if I’m scared but I say no! How could I be? I’m so happy and thrilled that I am able to help him and give him a fresh start.Estrella Isiordia
Bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside the bones that makes blood-forming cells. These cells can become white blood cells that fight infections; red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body; and platelets to control bleeding. A bone marrow transplant is the process of replacing an unhealthy one with a healthy one. In looking for a bone marrow donation, doctors have to match more than just a blood type. The donor has to have a similar human leukocyte antigen tissue type, which are proteins found on most cells in the body. These proteins allow the immune system to recognize which cells belong in the body and which ones don’t, which is why a sibling usually makes for the best donor.
Tony has three older half-siblings, including Isiordia, so the chance that doctors would find a match among them was already facing long odds. When the tests came back it showed Isiordia was a 50 percent match, which was enough for the transplant plan to continue forward.
“I was the only one that was a close match,” Isiordia said. “My mom was the next closest but because I am younger, my cells would be better for his system.”
Isiordia, 23, is a dance instructor and assistant to the director at the Center for Urban Performance and Service, a dance and music ministry at Westside Ministries in Turlock. She recently earned her associate’s degree in Theater from Modesto Junior College.
“I was unsure of how this transplant would work,” Isiordia said. “I was hopeful, but scared at the same time because there’s always a risk that something could go wrong. But as the doctors explained the process and the successes they have had, I began to get really hopeful for him. I also had to get comfortable with the idea so I could comfort my mother, who will always worry for her children.
Before getting the transplant from his big sister, Tony twice had to undergo an intensive round of chemotherapy for 28 days that is aimed at forcing the body into a sudden remission. He was then admitted to Stanford University Medical Center where he received course of radiation twice a day, as well as chemotherapy. The treatment depletes his immune system to a point that his body should be able to accept the transplanted bone marrow.
The transplant on Isiordia’s part saw her enter the hospital this week for a daily injection designed to boost up the cells in her bone marrow and send them into her blood stream.
“The day of my procedure, I will undergo what is similar to dialysis where they take my blood from one arm, gather the cells through a machine, and then give back my blood through the other arm,” Isiordia said. “Once my procedure is done, Tony will receive my cells the following day. He then will need to stay at Stanford for three more months for precautions and to assure the transplant was a success.
“Since the transplant is approaching, I couldn’t be more excited,” Isiordia said. “When people ask me, they usually ask if I’m scared but I say no! How could I be? I’m so happy and thrilled that I am able to help him and give him a fresh start.”
A GoFundMe account to help with some of the family’s expenses has been set up at https://www.gofundme.com/family-transplant-funds.