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Katelyn's Bravery Amid Cancer Rallies Community Support

The 7-year-old Maplewood Richmond Heights student has been diagnosed with B Cell Lymphona and is waiting for the right match for a bone marrow transplant.

Katelyn Vasey loves to visit the Saint Louis Zoo and play with farm animals at her school. The 7-year-old Maplewood Richmond Heights student said she wants be a veterinarian when she grows up.

"I want to help all animals," said Katelyn while shyly hiding behind her clutched stuffed dog, who she named Twilight.

When Katelyn starts talking about her love for animals, she doesn't stop smiling.

Even as she sat on a hospital bed with a plastic foam cup of chocolate milk and a beeping machine beside her pillow on a recent Saturday, Katelyn never stopped smiling.

Her smile makes it easy to forget everything Katelyn has been through.

Katelyn was diagnosed in December 2010 with a type of cancer called B Cell Lymphona. She went through eight months of chemotherapy to fight the disease. The cancer went into remission in July.

Then, in November, doctors discovered a tumor in Katelyn's brain.

"She was just being a normal kid, then it happened pretty quick," said Dan Vasey, Katelyn's father.

The tumor has been removed, but Katelyn isn't fully healthy yet.

Doctors have added radiation procedures and a bone marrow transplant to Katelyn's latest treatment plan.

For the transplant, Katelyn is waiting for the right match.

Minority donors are needed

Katelyn is the daughter of Dan and Sompit Vasey. Because her father is white and her mother is from Thailand, Katelyn has a unique tissue type. Neither parent has the right match.

Someone who has a mixed background like Katelyn is more likely to match her tissue type.

Finding the right tissue match for minorities can be challenging. Be The Match, a nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis that runs the world's largest registry of potential marrow donors, notes that only 29 percent of registered potential donors are from minority groups, and all minority groups are less likely to find the right match compared to white patients.

That's why the is partnering with Be The Match to host a in the school's gym.

Dan Vasey hopes the Maplewood Richmond Heights community, which is composed of multiple minority and mixed-race families, will support the drive.

"We want to find a match, but we also want to raise awareness," Dan Vasey said. "Everyone can be a donor, and it's a relatively painless process."

Being added to the registry is as easy as a cheek swab. Once people are added, they can be called as a potential donor for those who match their tissue type and need help.

Adding more names to the list of potential donors is critical.

"Every year, more than 10,000 patients in the U.S. are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases such as leukemia or lymphoma for which a marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant from an unrelated donor may be their best or only hope of a cure," Be The Match's website states.

Potential donors must be between 18 and 60 years old, be willing to donate to any patient in need and meet some health guidelines, a Be The Match flier notes. The flier, which includes the full list of health guidelines, is attached to this article as a PDF.

Even if people don't meet the health guidelines, there are other ways to contribute.

While it's free to add your name to the registry, it costs Be The Match about $100 to pay for labwork, Dan Vasey said. A monetary donation to the organization would help offset those costs.

Still a part of the class

Katelyn hasn't been to school since November, but that doesn't mean her friends don't miss having her around.

She received 23 cards around the holidays, filled with messages of "get well soon."

"The kids have kept her in the class, even if she's not physically there," Dan Vasey said. "That's the biggest thing that has kept her spirits up."

Katelyn spends about 80 percent of her time in the hospital now, so a teacher from the Special School District of St. Louis County visits Katelyn regularly. The Special School District coordinates with Katelyn's first-grade teacher at MRH, Kristin Freeman, to keep Katelyn on track with her schoolwork. 

What's next for Katelyn?

The Vasey family hopes to find a match for Katelyn and begin the transplant process by the end of February.

After the transplant, Katelyn will need to become even more courageous.

She'll wait in the hospital between 30 and 100 days because her immune system will be completely weakened before the procedure.

"It becomes pretty intense at that point," Dan Vasey said.

At first, Dan Vasey believed his daughter's chances of survival weren't very good, but now he remains optimistic.

"The odds are looking like we're going to beat this," he said.

Katelyn just misses spending time with her two dogs, a puggle and Brittany Spaniel.

"When she comes home, they park themselves right next to her," Dan Vasey said. "Just like a magnet," Sompit Vasey added.

Susie Rohlfing February 14, 2012 at 03:38 PM
My heart, thoughts and prayers go out to you and your beautiful daughter Katelyn. I hope our Maplewood Richmond Heights community comes out in tenfolds for Katelyn and others needing bone marrow. God Bless you, stay strong & stay positive.

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