NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Volunteers from Accolade Hospice, the Delete Cancer Group, and the Hula Hut will be joining forces Wednesday for a "Swab Your Mouth Drive" to promote awareness about bone marrow matches.
It's in honor of Aidan Peterson, a 6-year-old Dallas area boy who is battling a rare, aggressive form of leukemia. His grandparents are from Nacogdoches.
Aidan needs to be in remission to benefit from a match, should one be found. This is not the case. He's terribly sick in a Dallas children's hospital. Even so the family is hopeful, should he get well a match will be found, if not for Aidan, for other children and adults in need of a bone marrow transplant.
"You are a needle in a haystack if you are chosen to be that person," Kathy Payne, an Accolade Hospice volunteer, said. "It's simply that you have to have the 5-6 DNA markers that somebody else has."
Amy Murdock was that needle in a haystack for another cancer patient in Denver. She read from a letter that gave her the exciting news.
"Dear Amy, you are a match for a specific patient donor with leukemia," Murdock read. She added," Go out and get swabbed because you never know when you can help."
The drive will be held in the gymnasium of the North Street Church of Christ, which is located at 3914 North Street, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Those interested in helping can come during their lunch hour or during breaks between classes at Stephen F. Austin State University.
"Aidan Peterson has cancer. He is 6," said Jody Westbrook, a pharmaceutical sales rep and the owner of the Hula Hut. "Aidan really does not have lots of time left, and his hope rests in a bone marrow donor."
Holly Randall, another Accolade Hospice volunteer said, so far, the regular treatments Aidan has been receiving have been unsuccessful. However, she said if the clinical trial gets positive results, doctors may allow him to be a match.
Aidan's grandparents will find out this week if the experimental medicines Aidan is receiving are working. If not, Sheila Lawson said her grandson will be sent home for hospice care.
"Come out and get swabbed," Lawson said. "You might save somebody's life, and that life might be my grandson, and may God Bless everyone of you who do. Thank you."
Even though Aidan's mother doesn't know the people who are organizing Wednesday's Swab Your Mouth Drive, their is overwhelming for a mother sitting by her ill son's side.
"It's what I think life is supposed to be about," said Aidan's mother, Candice Gaudet. "It's amazing love that really gives us a lot of strength in this situation."
Gaudet said her prayer is that her son goes into remission, and that a bone match is found for him or someone else.
Aidan had another form of cancer when he was toddler. He was cured. In January a different form of cancer, more aggressive, appeared in Aidan's small body.
Westbrook said Aidan's parents are juggling their desire to stay with him as much as possible during his ordeal with the need to work to pay the bills.
According to a flyer, Aidan was diagnosed with Myelodysplasia (MDS), or pre-leukemia, on Jan. 18, 2013. Since then, the illness has already progressed to a more serious form of cancer called Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). Aidan now faces intense chemotherapy, followed by a bone marrow transplant.
Wanting to help in any way possible, Westbrook got a permit from the City of Nacogdoches to set up her Hula Hut shaved ice snow cone concession stand in the parking lot during the event. While volunteers from Accolade Hospice is doing the mouth swabs, SFA students will be helping her run the Hula Hut. All the profits will go to help the Peterson family.
Westbrook explained that she graduated from SFA 20 years ago and still has many friends in this area. She said she is friends with Aidan's grandmother, who works in a Nacogdoches medical office.
Earlier this year, the Delete Blood Cancer group did another mouth swabbing event, Westbrook said. She said even though less than 100 people showed up for that event, they found a match for another cancer patient in need of a bone marrow donation. However, she said they still have not found a match for Aidan.
Westbrook said she has friends who are nurses all over East Texas, She said one from Mt. Pleasant and one from Longview want to set up additional donor swabbing events in their areas.
"I just know that I'm very blessed with four amazing children, and if this was my child or grandchild, I would want people to help them," Westbrook said. "My husband and my kids went with me, and we had prayed we would be his match. It is painless, and it really takes very little time to be tested."
For more information on blood cancers, visit the Delete Blood Cancer Website.
For more information on Wednesday's event, call Kathy Payne at (936) 585-3712 or (877) 426-3870. The phone number for Delete Blood Cancer is (646) 530-2911.