By Kate Stow
While most pre-teens in our area are gearing up for a fun-filled summer vacation, one local 13-year old is struggling to muster the energy needed to fight a rare blood disorder. Hazel Helms, a sixth-grade student at Morris Upchurch Middle School in Queen City, was recently diagnosed with aplastic anemia complicated by her A- Rh- factor blood type.
Aplastic anemia is a condition that occurs when your body stops producing enough new blood cells. The condition leaves you fatigued and more prone to infections and uncontrolled bleeding. A rare and serious condition, aplastic anemia can develop at any age.
“In December she just became really fatigued and jaundiced,” said great-aunt Charlie Williams, who is also her legal guardian. “We took her to the ER here in Atlanta and they sent us on to Dallas Children’s Hospital. Her white blood cell count was 0.2.”
Since then, Hazel has had two more hospital stays in Shreveport – at Willis Knighton South and Oschner-LSU for more tests.
“When we got home from the hospital we were told to wait for a match,” Charlie said. “We all posted on social media and a week later we got a call saying a match was found. While we don’t know the person’s name, we do know that it was someone who saw the Facebook post, and we are so very grateful for everyone that responded.”
Today, May 2, Hazel is having a pique line implanted for IV treatment. She will have antithymocyte globulin (AGT) serum injections over the next few days, with a total of two weeks inpatient at the St. Jude’s affiliated cancer center in Shreveport.
“The AGT serum is derived from horse DNA, which we found to be very ironic,” said Charlie, adding that “the horse is Hazel’s favorite animal.”
“There is an 80-100% success rate with this treatment, which kickstarts the bone marrow into producing the new blood cells, so we are hopeful that she will be back to normal very soon,” said Charlie’s sister, Loretta Cothren. If, for some reason, the AGT treatment doesn’t do the trick, Hazel will be eligible for a bone marrow transplant.
A blood drive will be held Sunday, May 7, 2023, between 12 Noon and 5:00 p.m., at the Westside Baptist Church Family Life Center.
“It does not matter if you have the same type as Hazel, she will receive credits for replenishment, Loretta explained. “Information and DNA swab kits will also be given to those wishing to be put on the list for any future transplants or needs she will have. People can call me at 903-314-1069 with any questions they may have.”
“We are so very thankful for the Shreveport doctors that are helping Hazel,” said Charlie. Those specialists include Dr. Deepthi Sankepalli, a Pediatric Gastroenterologist at WK South; Dr. Craig Chu, who diagnosed Hazel; and Dr. Majed Jeroudi, a Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Specialist at the Feist-Weiller Cancer Center at Oschner-LSU.
For now, this once-active young athlete is just looking forward to “feeling normal again” so that she can rejoin her softball team and get back on her barrel-racing horse to “turn and burn” some more.