Twelve-year-old KP member meets the school teacher who helped save her life. (See them pictured above.)
Mailyna Mayate is a typical 12-year-old middle schooler. The Castro Valley preteen likes to hang out with friends, play with her sister, and dance. But until about a year ago, she was also very sick.
Mailyna was born with Beta Thalassemia Major, a blood disorder that reduces the production of hemoglobin, the iron-containing protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to cells throughout the body. At the tender age of six months, when other babies were learning to crawl, she began having monthly blood transfusions at Kaiser Permanente Oakland to keep her alive.
“It is a disease that you are born with, and it totally changes your life,” said Stacy Month, MD, medical director of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center. “Transfusions are needed every three to four weeks, and there can be complications. Patients often die young.”
But there was hope for Mailyna — if only a donor match could be found for a bone marrow transplant.
A Whim Leads to a Life-Saving Match
The Asian American Donor Program held drives throughout the Bay Area to find a match for Mailyna, including one at Kaiser Permanente Regional Offices in Oakland.
“Her strength and will through it all was just amazing,” said Eileen Armas, Mailyna’s grandmother and a senior staff assistant for The Permanente Medical Group in Oakland.
But matches for Asians are particularly difficult since there is a shortage of ethnic donors; Mailyna is of Filipino descent.
“Finding a marrow or stem-cell match can be like finding a needle in a haystack,” noted Carol Gillespie, executive director for the Asian American Donor Program.
The hard work paid off, and a match was found in Rhode Island. Kristine Sydney is a high-school English teacher. She happened upon a donor drive at a local college campus, and on a whim decided to register. Born in the Philippines and raised in Saudi Arabia, she thought her extensive travels excluded her from being a donor. But she was mistaken and ended up being a perfect match for Mailyna. The transplant went off without a hitch in May of last year.
A Stranger Who Was Willing to Help
Last week, the two met at Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center for the first time. Surrounded by friends, family, hospital staff, and reporters — tears, hugs, and smiles were intermingled with words of appreciation.
“Thank you, Kristine. I wouldn’t have treatment without you,” said Mailyna gripping flowers and a tissue as she met her donor. “It was very hard for me. Isolation was hard; my family couldn’t come in, and I couldn’t see my sister or hang out with friends. I missed a lot of school.”
Kristine said she was blessed to be a match for Mailyna.
“I am just really happy to meet you,” she said with a smile and tears streaming down her face as she gently ran her fingers across Mailyna’s hair. “I am just trembling here, not because I am nervous, but because I am so excited to stand by you.”
Mailyna’s family now considers Kristine one of their own.
“I am overwhelmed that a stranger was willing to help,” said Mailyna’s mom, Mia Armas, after the tearfulmeeting. “She is such a blessing to have in our life. And to see Mailyna now so happy, doing the things that kids should do, is just amazing.”
As for Mailyna, she is eager to get back to school and make up for lost time. She also has big plans for her future.
“I am not sure yet what I want to be, but I do want to do like Kristine did and help others.”
Learn more about donating bone marrow at the Asian American Donor Program website.