A little boy in Calgary met his Texan superhero this week after overcoming cancer not once, but twice, with help from a stem cell transplant.
Erik Gracia, 9, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, which is a cancer of the blood, when he was just two years old. His parents noticed that something wasn’t quite right with their son so they took him to see a doctor right away.
“I paid for one hour of parking [at the hospital] and we ended up staying six months,” said Paul Gracia, Erik’s father. “They ran tests, came back and said it was leukemia.”
After receiving rounds of intensive chemotherapy, Erik was cancer-free for two years.
Unfortunately, he relapsed in 2012 and his only hope of survival was receiving a stem cell transplant. The rest of the family—including two brothers—had been tested and no one was a match. After relapsing, the chances of recovery were pretty slim.
“The prospects for survival were maybe 50/50 [the first time Erik was diagnosed] but after his relapse the odds of survival had gone down more, it was 20 per cent,” Paul Gracia said.
That’s where Brent Lewelling from Beaumont, Texas came in.
Lewelling was a high school student in Texas when he registered as a stem cell donor. It wasn’t until two years later at the age of 20 that he got the call a little boy in Canada needed a bone marrow transplant and that he was a perfect match.
“I didn’t know he had six months to live and was critical, all I knew was the boy needed bone marrow,” Lewelling said. “They tried to keep it [the information] at minimum so I wouldn’t get nervous.”
It wasn’t an easy process for Gracia or Lewelling. They both had to undergo intense medical procedures.
Lewelling underwent anesthesia to extract the stem cells from his bone marrow in both of his hips. Gracia had to undergo daily radiation treatments to his brain and spinal cord.
This was followed by the stem-cell transplant for which he had to go through another round of high-dose chemotherapy and total body irradiation to get rid of all remaining cancer cells.
He then received the donated stem cells, which replenished his body with healthy immune and blood cells.
The stem cells ultimately saved Gracia’s life and today he is a happy and healthy boy who loves all sports.
Lewelling, his wife Carla and daughter Adelina travelled to Calgary from Texas to meet the Gracia family in person for the first time and were welcomed with open arms.
“I look at them and marvel,” said Carol Gracia, Erik’s mother.
“It’s a miracle to me, it feels like Brent is my son.”
The family is grateful the stem cells saved Erik’s life.
“I was so happy,” said Alex Gracia, Erik’s older brother. “I didn’t know how he survived, I thought it was luck but then we met this guy [Brent] and he’s truly amazing.”
For more information on how to become a stem cell donor, visit the Canadian Blood Services website here.
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