Langford mom to be ‘Hail Mary’ in stem-cell transplant for Hannah Day

VANCOUVER — It was a near-miraculous outcome Hannah Day’s family had desperately prayed for.

After weeks of a high-profile campaign to find a stem-cell-donor match for the four-year-old Langford girl battling leukemia — her second cancer diagnosis — mom Brooke Ervin received good news Monday: A match has been found. In fact, more than one. But there was a heartbreaking twist.

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“Matches were found, but now it won’t happen. Not for Hannah,” Ervin said from B.C. Children’s Hospital.

Doctors said Hannah’s body was exposed to so much radiation from her first cancer in 2012, a rare type called rhabdomyosarcoma, that she could not withstand the blasts that would be needed to put her leukemia in remission to enable the stem-cell transplant, even with a perfect match.

Hannah’s options: Palliative care, which doctors estimate would give her another two years, or a rare, high-risk transplant next month that carries a 40 per cent chance of death.

“I bawled. I cried so hard. I can’t believe these are the choices we have after everyone’s hard work,” the devastated mom said.

Thousands of people had rallied behind Hannah in recent weeks, submitting cheek swabs to OneMatch, a stem-cell and marrow registry run by Canadian Blood Services in the hopes of finding a suitable donor. The odds of finding a match were about one in a million.

The response had been tremendous, Ervin said, with 40,000 people signing up as potential donors in 48 hours.

“I want everyone to know how thankful we are to see so many people try to save her life,” she said. “It was successful and matches were found, but now will not work. It is all on my shoulders now.”

The “Hail Mary” procedure, called a haplo-identical transplant, requires stem cells from Ervin. She is only a half-match but doctors say that because her stem cells once helped protect Hannah as a baby, they may also have a chance of killing off the remaining leukemia cells in Hannah’s body.

In an Ontario case in 2010, the haplo transplant was still considered an experimental procedure and had to be performed overseas. It remains rare. Hannah’s oncologist has performed the procedure only twice, Ervin said. She hasn’t yet asked if those treatments were successful.

It was a horrible decision no family should have to make, Ervin said, but for them there can only be one choice.

“We want her here forever. If we want a lifetime cure, this is our only option. We have to know we did everything to save her life.”

Hannah has a secret weapon, Ervin said: a pink Superman shirt. “She likes to say, ‘If I wear this shirt, I won’t give up.’ ”

Neither will her parents. And they are asking people who may have been moved by Hannah’s plight not to give up either.

Ervin said she hopes the swabbing event planned for Sunday afternoon in conjunction with the Victoria Grizzlies’ game at Bear Mountain Arena in Colwood will go ahead.

“I don’t want this news to ruin that,” she said. “I don’t want people to stop because they couldn’t help Hannah.

“It won’t save Hannah’s life, but it will save somebody’s.”

Canadian Blood Services agrees with Ervin and said Tuesday that Sunday’s swab drive at the Grizzlies’ game will go ahead.

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