Bone marrow drive set for 11-year-old New Jersey girl with rare leukemia

Saturday, March 12, 2016
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Rob Nelson has the latest details.

FORT LEE, New Jersey (WABC) -- A New Jersey community is coming together, on a mission to help a young girl fighting cancer.

In January, 11-year-old Briana Lopez learned she had acute myeloid leukemia, but that has not dampened the vibrant and brave girl's spirits.

Now, her family is leading the charge for a bone marrow drive.

Lopez has the adorable, innocent smile of a child, but the strength of someone far older.

"There are hard days, and those days where I'm not feeling good," she said. "But most days, I'm happy to feel good."

For nearly two months, the Fort Lee sixth grader has been at Hackensack University Medical Center, battling an aggressive, rare form of leukemia. Her parents have shaved their heads in solidarity and decorated the hospital room walls with cards and pictures to bring comfort.

They have not left her side.

"When she's going the chemo, she's told me, 'Mom, I can't do this,'" she said. "And I tell her, 'Yes, you can, and you will. You will get through this,'" Briana's mother Yanine Lopez said.

Chemotherapy by itself won't cure Briana, who desperately needs a bone marrow transplant in the next six weeks. And the search for a donor is a daily process.

Doctors say Briana's case highlights another issue, that there simply aren't enough minorities who register to become bone marrow donors.

"She's much more likely to match somebody from her own community, from her own ethnic background," Dr. Alfred Gillio said.

Briana's family has organized a bone marrow drive for Saturday in Fort Lee, and all it takes is a 30-second swab of your cheek to see if you're a potentially life-saving match. In the meantime, Briana remains surrounded by family and hospital workers like Tara Mullen, who specializes in children's cases.

"We get to play games, we get to go out to the garden, but I'm also there for her when it's a difficult day," she said.

Brianna now wants a career like Tara's when she grows up, a future that just one matched donor can make happen.

"Be a hero," she said. "Go out there and save a life. Help me. C'mon, it's really easy."

Briana's bone marrow drive will be held from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Fort Lee Recreation Center located at 1500 8th Street in Fort Lee.