11-year-old donates bone marrow to mom
Eleven-year-old April Epps is her mother’s best hope for a life-saving bone marrow transplant.
Wendy Epps, 33, of Gardnerville, has been diagnosed with myelodysplasia. Without a transplant, doctors say, she will most likely develop acute leukemia within a year.
The disease stems from a genetic disorder – Fanconi anemia – that Wendy Epps was diagnosed with at age 12. The disorder typically results in bone marrow failure. Fanconi paitents are at a high risk for leukemia and other forms of cancer.
Most Fanconi patients do not reach adulthood. Epps’ brother, David Eichman, died of the disorder in 1989 at age 27. Her sister, Robin Moroney, 37, of New Jersey, also has Fanocni anemia.
Doctors told Epps she has a one-in-three chance of surviving a transplant, but that news did not deter April, who is free of the disease.
“The doctors told us this is the only treatment. So, we can go home and wait until I develop leukemia or do this,” Epps said. “It’s more risky because the Fanconi anemia is a genetic defect and the chromosomes tend to break apart during the chemotherapy and radiation.”
“In the past, the doctors have killed patients who have Fanconi and undergone this procedure,” Mike Epps said. “The protocol for the transplant is just half of what the normal procedures are so they don’t kill the patients, but they kill enough cells. Only three hospitals in the country have successfully done a transplant on people with her disease.”
Epps has remained stable for many years, which is virtually unheard of for patients with Fanconi anemia. She undergoes blood transfusions every month or so.
In July, however, she began to experience the beginning stages of bone marrow failure, including feeling lethargic. Blood tests revealed her bone marrow wasn’t producing red cells. Her white cells and platelets were also low.
Doctors prescribed blood transfusions because few doctors are familar with Fanconi anemia. That’s when Mike got on the Internet.
“The doctors in Reno weren’t aggressive enough for me. They were just sending her to get transfusions. I needed to get her where she needed to be or let her die,” he said.
The family will have to leave their new home for the transplant, which will take place at Fairview University Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minn. The surgery requires a minimum of 100 days hospitalization and extensive out-patient clinical care in Minneapolis.
Mike will have to rent an apartment near the hospital to be with Wendy through the treatment, although he will have a job with West Ridge Homes when he returns.
Wendy cannot stay with people who have offered to open their homes because her immune system will be severely compromised by the procedure.
The family has insurance, but Mike said he is worried about paying the $500 a month rent while they are in Minneapolis. There are also medical bills from before Wendy was insured. He said the insurance company is working with the hospital to cover the cost of the $250,000-$300,000 treatment.
Although they are concerned about their bills, the Epps say they don’t want to be looked at as having their hands out.
“If people want to help us, I’m not telling them not to. But it’s hard to ask for help,” Mike Epps said.
“If they can’t donate, ask them to just pray,” Wendy Epps said.
April will probably spend the first month with her mom and dad in Minneapolis. Then, she will fly to New Jersey to stay with her aunt and cousin. She needs to be able to return to Minneapolis in case another transplant is needed.
April said she was very happy when she found out she was a match for her mother and immediately called all her friends to tell them.
April is a 6th grader at Gardnerville Elementary School and hopes to be able to complete her work via Internet so she won’t have to play catch-up next year. She said she still will miss school and her jazz dance classes at All About Dance.
The Epps described the relative ease with which April will probably be able to contribute to her mother’s health.
“It’s essentially just a blood transfusion. They send the blood through a machine that collects the stem cells,” Wendy Epps said.
They could also take the marrow out of her bones. The doctors haven’t decided which procedure they will choose.
“We watched a video on it,” Mike Epps said. “In some ways, it’s anti-climactic because they spend all this time getting ready by going through chemotherapy to irradiate the malignant cells and then a bag is hooked up to an IV and it takes two hours to drip.”
A trust fund has been opened by the High Sierra Fellowship in Gardnerville to defer costs. Donations can be made to the Wendy Eichman-Epps Trust Fund, account number 620-102-8765, First Security Bank, 1375 Highway 395, Gardnerville 89410.
The trust fund was started by and is controlled by attorney Alan Erb and High Sierra pastor Rich Lammay. The Epps cannot withdraw money without their permission. If there is money left over after living and hospital expenses are paid, it will be donated to the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund.