Jackie Lesser, a fourth-semester physiology and neurobiology major at the University of Connecticut, is searching for a bone marrow transplant donor for her brother Ben, who was recently diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia.
Ben is a senior at Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland and was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a form of cancer in which the bone marrow makes abnormal myeloblasts, an immature blood cell that gives rise to a white blood cell, red blood cell or platelet, according to the National Cancer Institute. Ben is currently being treated at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Jackie said Ben’s cancer is already rare in and of itself, but because of a genetic marker on his specific cancer his doctors decided it was absolutely necessary he receive a transplant in order to fully recover. Jackie was tested immediately after Ben’s diagnosis, but she later found out she is not his perfect match, and there is currently no one in the transplant registry who is his match. People with a part Filipino and part European background are thought to be especially good matches.
Ben and Jackie’s mother is being designated as a backup donor given that she is a half-match, but given the circumstances surrounding Ben’s condition, his doctors are hesitant to proceed with a half-match transplant. That was when the family ultimately decided to go public with Ben’s diagnosis in order to spread awareness and try to find his perfect match.
“The timeline we were given about a week ago [before they want to do Ben’s transplant] was 40 days and since then it is of course going down,” Jackie said. “I appreciate the support and I think it is amazing that there’s so many people that care about him. It takes a community to really get the word out.”
Those who are interested in testing to see if they are Ben’s match can sign up on Be The Match, which is a website in which you can register and have a cheek swab kit sent to you to take and send back. There will also be a Be The Match booth at HuskyTHON on Saturday from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. where people can register and test on the spot.
Jackie said it takes about a week for the cheek swab kit to be emailed to you and then an additional two weeks upon returning the kit for your information to be put into the match database. You can not test directly to be Ben’s donor, but his doctors are constantly checking the system to see if there are any updates given that his situation is so urgent.
“It only takes one, that’s the slogan we’ve adopted from this,” Jackie said. “It takes one person, but it is so rare to find that one person.”
The community at home in Maryland has also rallied around Ben to spread the word about the search for his donor, and Jackie’s friends even made a short video on YouTube titled #findbensmatch where they explain how easy the cheek swab test is and how simple it is to register for the Be The Match database.
Ben loves running and is a three-season athlete who takes after the rest of the Lesser family, including his mother, who is a former marathon runner. His freshman year, he was one of five runners selected to go to states and has gone every consecutive year thereafter, Jackie said. However, his ongoing chemotherapy and various treatments have rendered him weak and unable to continue with sports.
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In two days, my little brother Ben is turning 18. Unlike most teenagers who get to celebrate their birthday, Ben will be in the hospital fighting against an aggressive form of leukemia. Even with all the love and support, Ben is in serious need of a bone marrow transplant or a peripheral blood stem cell donor. If you’re 18 or older, please consider registering for Be the Match as a potential donor for Ben. People with an ethnic background similar to Ben’s, which is part Filipino and part European, are thought to be especially good matches but anyone could be his perfect match. It’s very simple and even if you aren’t a match for Ben, you might be able to save another life. Please use this link or the link in my bio to register and share this post. https://join.bethematch.org/diversematch It only takes one match!
“He loves being active and loves working out,” Jackie said. “He is just very much a burst of energy. He isn’t able to be running or doing what he loves right now. He’s pinned down to a hospital bed and is very much in pain.”
Jackie spoke of Ben’s love for other people and how he has long been considered someone who cares deeply about others and goes above and beyond for them, and his friends do the same in return even though he has recently been unable to respond to many of them.
“He wants to make sure that everyone is okay,” Jackie said. “He doesn’t always put himself first but he always puts others first to make sure their needs are met. I realized every day [that I was home] his friends were still texting him even if they didn’t get a response back. People are still reaching out to him and they still have that connection.”
In a widely circulated Instagram post from Monday night, Jackie encouraged her followers to sign up for the registry and share the post in hopes to find a potential donor for Ben. As of Thursday night, the post had garnered 848 likes and reached over 6,000 accounts.
Jackie added even if you are not Ben’s perfect match, you could help another family who is going through something similar and make a huge impact in their lives.
“There are so many children and adults in need. Even if you are not giving directly to him, you are helping a life and you are helping something larger and greater,” Jackie said. “You might be saving that one life, but you are also helping an entire community. It will make a difference and it can change your life forever because you know you did something amazing for someone in need.”
Taylor Harton is the associate news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at email@example.com.