A Cross-Country Trip Changes a Child's Life

Sharee Leach had prayed for years for a second child, so when she learned she was pregnant, she and her husband, Lindon, were overjoyed. At an 11-week checkup, their doctor ran a test that revealed sobering news: their baby, Gabriella, had sickle cell disease. “My husband is a doctor and I am a nurse so we quickly understood the grim reality of our situation,” recalls Sharee. “This disease is life-threatening and has no widely available and guaranteed cure. That did not stop us. We were determined to save our child.” When a child has sickle cell disease, the cells become distorted into the shape of a sickle and can get caught in small vessels, leading to poor blood flow, severe pain crises, and other issues. Without highly effective treatment, about half of these children die by age 40. The Leaches consulted numerous physicians in California, where they lived, and were told repeatedly that not much could be done until Gaby experienced an actual crisis. At 7 months old, she did, running a very high fever that would not subside. Sharee and Lindon found themselves in and out of a nearby hospital with young Gaby every two weeks. Yet the medical professionals would not administer hydroxyurea, a drug that can relieve painful symptoms of the disease, because of insurance policies in the state of California. “We were so exasperated that we moved our family across the country when we learned that Children’s National could help,” says Sharee. “Once there, Dr. Allistair Abraham went out on a limb to make sure Gaby got hydroxyurea and he didn’t stop there. He recommended a bone marrow transplant.” The Leaches first child, Breanna, was a donor match for her sister so the two girls underwent the BMT as their parents anxiously awaited the results. Gaby, who was just 17 months old, is the youngest patient with sickle cell to have been transplanted at Children’s National. The procedure was a success. “We refused to just sit back and hope for the best,” says Lindon. “We want more families to have access to the care we received and to the BMT procedure, which is far safer than in years past. This means changing policy to support patients and families.” Today, Gaby is a giddy 2-year-old who smiles from ear-to-ear, loves cartoons, and is quick to give hugs. “I relied on the amazing staff at Children’s National on the toughest days and on my faith,” says Sharee. She adds, “’Breanna’ means ‘virtuous’ and ‘Gabriella,’ who I named before she was ever diagnosed, means ‘miracle.’” If you're willing to help save a child’s life, register to become a possible bone marrow donor. It’s easy and it’s free. Or make a donation to help kids like Gaby.

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