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Five minutes to save a life Be The Match drive continues to help patients with blood cancers and other diseases

Three years ago, Nolan Maddux Naranjo underwent a stem cell transplant from his mother to treat aplastic anemia, which he had been fighting for over a year.

Now 8 years old, Nolan is healthy and doing well. His struggle with the disease was previously reported in the University of Texas at Brownsville newspaper, The Collegian.

Nolan, who was 4 at the time, had to rely on blood transfusions to keep him alive when his illness became aggressive. While options and time seemed limited for the Naranjo family, they sought help through GenCure’s Be The Match stem cell and marrow drive.

“We got a phone call from a Be The Match coordinator about a year into [Nolan’s] illness,” said Nolan’s mother Jennifer Naranjo. “They told us that there was a Hispanic male that was a match for him. So, we were ecstatic but, unfortunately, he withdrew himself from the registry.”

Desperate parents, Jennifer and Bernardino Naranjo, were tested and identified as a “half match.” They were told by doctors that the stem cell transplant would be extra risky due to them not being a full match.

Nolan’s mother was chosen as the donor for her son.

“The odds are stacked against you even more for a half match,” Jennifer Naranjo said. “I have to stress that it’s like a miracle, I think, because most people who undergo a half match transplant, the odds are not in their favor at all. So, Nolan is a total walking miracle.”

Three years later, despite minor setbacks, Nolan is healthier than ever. He is back in school and enjoys playing baseball.

“This story is a happy ending, but the Be the match is so importance because there are so many [patients] who don’t have a match and don’t make it,” Jennifer Naranjo said.

Samuel Hill house, a community engagement representative for GenCure, helped coordinate the Be The Match drive on the UTRGV Brownsville campus last week.

Hillhouse remembers the Naranjo family and their experiences.

“Two years ago he was fighting for his life and he had this community helping him,” he said. “I’m happy to report that now he’s a healthy boy and he doesn’t have to worry about this stuff anymore.”

As in Nolan’s case, finding a full match can be difficult, especially in the Hispanic community.

“For every 540 people that get on the registry, only one person will match a patient,” Hillhouse said. “Hispanics currently only make up about 10 percent of the registry. Really, the whole U.S. looks towards this region of Texas to change that.”

Hillhouse emphasized the importance of fully understanding the significance of the Be The Match drive. There are countless times that a person on the national registry has declined after being matched with a patient.

“It’s an easy process but it’s a huge deal,” he said. “Somebody’s life is in your hands.”

Last week’s Be The Match drive was conducted to help find a donor for 13-year-old John Gonzalez, who has a rare form of leukemia known as myelomonocytic leukemia.

Hillhouse encourages the community to consider registering to help save a life.

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