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COLUMN ONE

An open battle against cancer

A mother resumes her online chronicle of her teenage son's courageous fight against the disease years after they thought he'd beaten the odds.

July 14, 2008|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

The next day, doctors administer Cytoxan, the most aggressive medicine so far. Chase becomes violently ill. He forces himself to swallow scraps of a bagel.

By the day of the stem cell transplant, Chase is lethargic and the doctors are threatening to insert a feeding tube if he doesn't eat more. His father, Chuck Crawford, has flown in from Texas. They play a baseball video game, but Chase is too tired to finish.

Kim and Kyle arrive and see the medical staff crowded around a cooler that contains a plastic pouch of stem cells. The liquid, which looks like tomato juice, would fit into a tiny espresso cup.

As the physicians prepare to attach the pouch to the intravenous line in Chase's chest, Kim bows her head and blurts out a quick prayer: "We hope and pray that this is going to cure your cancer. We love you, God, amen."

She grows teary, Chase shakes his head, stares at the plastic pouch and tries to stifle a smile.

The stem cells stream quickly into Chase's body, and it's over in less than 10 minutes. Someday -- perhaps a year from now when the transplant rules allow it -- Chase wants to meet the donor to thank her.

As graduation approaches, Kim longs to see him walk across the stage in a cap and gown. For Chase, though, the ceremony doesn't matter. He has missed months of classes, homecoming, the prom. This doesn't really feel like his class.

"The diploma's more important to me than walking," he said.

Chase watches the graduation ceremony through a live video link from his hospital bed. The next day, Charles Salter, Aliso Niguel's principal, presents Chase with his diploma. He is exhausted and soon nods off, clutching his blue graduation tassel.

A tough stretch lies ahead. Chase's immunity is so low that any infection could be deadly. And once he is able to eat, he'll be kept to a strict diet that forbids many foods, including raw fruits or vegetables.

But despite his ordeal, Chase retains his unbreakable spirit. Soon he hopes to pick the courses he'll take in the spring at Santa Barbara City College to fulfill requirements so he can transfer to a four-year college.

"I just want to get it over with," he said. "I've got to get ready for school and stuff."

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seema.mehta@latimes.com

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Bone marrow and stem cell donation

What

Marrow is spongy tissue found inside bones that contains stem cells, tiny factories that make blood. Stem cells are also found in the bloodstream and in the umbilical cord. All can be removed from a donor and transplanted intravenously into a patient to fight life-threatening diseases that include leukemia and other cancers. About 70% of patients do not have donor matches within their families; these patients must search for a volunteer donor whose tissue type matches their own.

Supply

More than 11 million people have joined registries around the world as an initial step toward possible donation of bone marrow or stem cells. About 33,000 Americans join the National Marrow Donor Program each month.

Demand

More than 10,000 Americans are diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease each year and need a bone marrow, stem cell or cord blood transplant from an unrelated volunteer donor to save their lives. In 2007, the National Donor Marrow Program facilitated more than 3,700 marrow, stem cell and cord blood transplants. Because of varying donation patterns, whites currently have a greater chance of finding a match on the registry than minorities, with donations from many racial and ethnic groups urgently needed.

For more information, visit www.marrow.org.

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