Hillary Martinez is waiting on a miracle.
The UCF engineering alumna has spent the past year in and out of hospitals, watching her 20-month-old son, Korbyn, fight an aggressive form of leukemia that has taken away her “normal.”
Korbyn has endured more than a year of chemotherapy to fight acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, a cancer of the blood that starts in the bone marrow and spreads to the bloodstream. Even as he goes into remission, Korbyn’s doctors are still finding traces of leukemia.
“Even a few – five or six – of the cells is bad,” said Martinez, a 2006 UCF graduate. “A bone marrow transplant is the next most effective treatment.”
Martinez’ miracle could be in your DNA. And she needs you to take just a few minutes to let the experts check – just by swabbing the inside of your cheek – during UCF’s #OrlandoUnited blood drive at Bright House Networks Stadium on Monday, June 27.
While 12 of OneBlood’s Big Red Buses take blood donations from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., the Martinez family clings to hope that Korbyn’s bone marrow match might be among those generous enough to give blood in honor of the June 12 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub.
More information about the blood drive, including a link for making appointments, is available here.
Near the buses at the stadium will be a “Be The Match” tent. OneBlood staff will take cheek swabs from anyone wishing to be a potential donor for bone marrow. The process takes just a few minutes. Pre-registration is not required, and you do not have to donate blood on Monday to participate. The results are placed in a national registry, so there could be a match found for another person seeking a donor.
Once a donor is identified and confirmed as a match through additional tests, options include an outpatient procedure involving the pelvic bone with donors usually being discharged by the end of the day. Doctors say most people return to normal activities within a day or two. Another option is a series of stem-cell bone marrow extractions from the blood stream.
For the Martinezes, finding a donor would be “the miracle that we’re all waiting for.”
The family learned Korbyn had leukemia after he repeatedly got fevers and ear and sinus infections while at daycare. His mother said the frequency was troubling enough, but while antibiotics initially worked, he was sick again within a few weeks.
Finally, one physician requested bloodwork on the baby – and that unraveled the mystery. Korbyn’s white cell count was far above normal. Mutated white blood cells were multiplying uncontrollably in his bloodstream. Within days, he had his first round of chemotherapy.
“We couldn’t even process this or grieve,” said his mom. “We just had to act.”
Everything changed for the family then, she said.
She went from a full-time engineer to part time. Her husband, Bryce, works full time. Both juggle the doctors’ appointments and hospital stays.
Korbyn had three rounds of chemotherapy during the past year. His mother says she’s constantly amazed at how strong he is and how few side effects he’s had.
“Korbyn keeps us strong. He’s taken this thing by storm,” she said. “No matter what we give him, he just takes it.”
It’s still not easy. With his immune system compromised, the family home is a germ-free zone. They can’t go out in public and Korbyn can’t play with other children. They leave their shoes outside and change clothing immediately when they return from work or the grocery store.
“We can’t take him places like Disney,” she said. “So we do what we can to keep him happy.”
If a donor is found, said Martinez, they would be “giving us back our ‘normal.’ For us to get that back would be huge, huge.”
If not, she hopes another family might see a cure.
“It’s not just for Korbyn,” she said. “It could be for someone else, some other family. You could change someone’s whole life by just giving a few minutes of your time.”