‘Strangers helping strangers is amazing’: Family of child battling leukemia finds bone marrow donor

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CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) ─ A Cranston toddler is now one step closer to beating leukemia thanks to a complete stranger.

Aspen Peck was only a year old when she was diagnosed, and even though her family says her body is trying to kill her, she’s as resilient as ever.

“She’s spunky and she’s acting like a toddler,” her father Troy Peck said. “She’s standing and crawling and really trying to walk and do all of those things a toddler should be doing.”

Troy said they’ve received an immense amount of support from the community since Aspen’s diagnosis, and while a GoFundMe page set up to help pay for her medical expenses has already raised more than $80,000, it’s the bone marrow donation she’ll receive that could ultimately save her life.

“It’s the best way to cure her,” Troy said, adding that Aspen’s 23-year-old anonymous donor is a female with the same blood type. “We feel really fortunate that we have [a match] to start with … Strangers helping strangers is amazing.”

Despite this, Troy said it’s only the beginning of Aspen’s long road to recovery. He said she will have to receive intense chemotherapy between now and her bone marrow transplant, which is scheduled for next month.

“They are going to bring her, pretty much to the brink of death, and hold her there and then transplant the cells and let her body bring herself back,” Troy explained.

The coronavirus pandemic, Troy said, adds another layer of stress to Aspen’s situation. He says he’s worried what COVID-19 would do to her already compromised immune system.

It’s why he’s been pushing for the state to make caregivers like he and his wife eligible to get vaccinated.

Right now, Troy and his wife are considered to be part of the general public, meaning that, regardless of their daughter’s condition, they won’t be eligible for the vaccine for quite some time.

Troy said unfortunately, his calls have gone unanswered.

“The state has been, pretty much, unresponsive to our calls,” he said.

Now that they’ve found a bone marrow donor for Aspen, he said he’s focusing primarily on his daughter’s recovery.

“We just really have to focus on getting her to transplant and just keeping her healthy, especially right now,” Troy said. “You’ve got to pick your battles, and we’ve been fighting that other battle for so long.”

“I would love for them to still make a change for parents and caregivers like us to get vaccinated, but I just don’t see any hope of that happening,” he continued.

Earlier this week, the R.I. Department of Health said all Rhode Islanders ages 16 and older will be eligible for the vaccine by April 19.

When asked whether caregivers like Aspen’s parents would become eligible before then, Joseph Wendelken, a spokesperson for the Health Department, urged everyone to continue taking the proper protocols against COVID-19.

“We are working to get everyone vaccinated as quickly as possible. We are very excited about being able to adjust the timeline for vaccinations, based on the updated information we’ve received from the federal government,” Wendelken said. “Until people are vaccinated, the best guidance we can give is for people to get tested often, wear high quality masks, and take strong infection control measures known to prevent all diseases. We don’t know that vaccination completely prevents transmission of COVID-19. That is why it is critical for caregivers to take these measures, even if they are vaccinated.”

Troy said they won’t know who Aspen’s donor is for at least a year. Once that year is up, he said both their family and the donor will be given the option to meet one another.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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