August 02, 2020

Bone marrow drives to benefit girl > Mattawamkeag 12-year-old diagnosed with leukemia needs transplant

Elizabeth Pelkey has been as bright and busy a youngster as any 12-year-old girl in Mattawamkeag can be.

She is active in Girl Scouts and her church. She likes reading books, especially mysteries, and she also enjoys playing soccer and basketball, as well as downhill and cross-country skiing and ice skating.

“I’m really good, too, and I’ve even mastered skating backwards wearing hockey skates,” she crowed, during a recent interview.

When Elizabeth grows up, she wants to raise animals and maybe own a farm. She loves riding horses and hopes to own one some day.

The young girl, however, will have to undergo a bone marrow transplant to make her dreams come true.

The active youngster has leukemia complicated by Philadelphia chromosome, a rare, life-threatening blood disease that affects the immune system. Elizabeth now is in remission.

Her parents, Bryan and Holly Pelkey, along with family members and friends, hope this Christmas season will bring a special gift for their daughter — a bone marrow match.

And there’s a chance that might happen.

The Elizabeth Pelkey Bone Marrow Drives will be held Friday, Dec. 17, at two locations, one in East Millinocket and another in Lincoln. The drives are being organized by the Maine Leukemia Foundation and by Laurel Deveau, a nurse at Penobscot Valley Hospital in Lincoln, and Nadia Peters, a public relations coordinator at Great Northern Paper Inc.

Only three bone marrow drives have been held in Maine this year, adding about 800 donors to the National Marrow Donor Program Registry, according to Paul Greenier, president of the Maine Leukemia Foundation.

Greenier said the Dec. 17 drives were very important because increasing the number of donors increases the chances that a person needing bone marrow match might find one.

“In this case, we might help Elizabeth or someone else who is waiting for a match,” said Greenier. “We are in the business of giving second chances at life.”

Although the national registry has more than 3.8 million donors, about 3,000 people from across the country are still searching for a match. Greenier said there were 30,000 to 40,000 new patients in the country every year.

Regular chemotherapy treatments have taken all of Elizabeth’s shoulder-length, dark blond hair, but not her sense of humor, happy laugh and the twinkle in her hazel eyes when she talks about riding horses.

For the past several months, the leukemia has affected Elizabeth’s ability to do many of the activities she loves.

“To have her life come to a standstill has been hard for her,” Mrs. Pelkey admitted.

Leukemia, which means “white blood,” includes a variety of cancers that begin in the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow, the material that fills the body’s bones. These cells remain abnormally immature and multiply continuously, crowding out healthy, infection-fighting white cells, red cells and clot-forming platelets that prevent bleeding. They can spill out of the marrow into the blood stream and lymph system and can travel to the brain and central nervous system of the body.

Initially, the disease made the 5-foot, 4-inch tall youngster very weak, to a point so she could not walk. Elizabeth’s weight dropped to 84 pounds, but now she is getting stronger.

For five days every three weeks, Elizabeth receives chemotherapy treatments. A cold or a fever sends her back to the hospital for five to 10 days of antibiotics. She has spent about nine of the last 12 weeks in a hospital, with her mom or dad beside her.

Being away from her younger sister, Hillary, and her bother, Jacob, is hard for Elizabeth, who, through her mom’s schooling them at home, have become especially close.

Thanks to the Make A Wish Foundation, the Pelkey family recently was able to spend a week together at a dude ranch in Arizona.

“It was the most normal our family has been, because we all slept under the same roof for a whole week,” Mrs. Pelkey said.

Right now, the Pelkeys hope their whole family can spend Christmas home together.

“Bryan and I have always known our children were really the Lord’s — only ours for a short time,” the mother said. “But, in our hearts, we hoped it would be forever and ever. What we realized in September was that may not be so.”

The lives of the Pelkey family haven’t been the same since Elizabeth was diagnosed this fall with the illness. Bryan and Holly Pelkey, however, can’t believe the support they have received from people in the greater Lincoln and Millinocket areas.

“The communities have been incredible,” Mrs. Pelkey said, expressing her thanks. “People have been so good to us. They have visited, sent cards, baked and sent money.

“It’s been quite an experience,” she said.

Becoming a bone-marrow donor is not as difficult as many think. The first step requires only giving a sample of blood to determine the donor’s tissue type. The sample then is compared to the tissue types of thousands of patients around the world.

If there is a potential match, the donor gives another blood sample to determine whether the match is adequate. If there is a match, the donor has a physical exam and then decides whether to donate bone marrow.

Typically bone marrow tests cost $96 each, but the cost for Elizabeth’s drives has been reduced thanks to a grant from the National Marrow Donor Program. Organizers of the drives also are soliciting donations so there will be no costs to people who want to become a donor.

Those people who want to donate for the test costs can write a check to the Maine Leukemia Foundation-Elizabeth Pelkey Trust and send it to Great Northern Paper Inc. in care of Nadia Peters. The address is 1 Katahdin Ave., Millinocket, Maine, 04462.

The bone marrow drives will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Friday, Dec. 17, at Great Northern’s training center in East Millinocket, and from 3 to 6 p.m. at Penobscot Valley Hospital in Lincoln.

To pre-register as a donor, call Deveau at 794-3321 or Peters at 723-2379.

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