As a former NFL running back and current Cowboys running backs coach, Gary Brown has been on many game-winning drives in his career. But the current drive that he and his family are navigating is literally a lifesaver.
Brown's family is spearheading a "Be the Match Registry" bone marrow donation drive because Brown's 15-year-old daughter, Malena, was diagnosed last year with Chronic Meyloid Leukemia (CML), a rare type of cancer in children that is a slowly progressing blood and bone marrow disease.
Malena needs a matching blood marrow donor. So far there are no matches with family members or anyone on the national and international registries. She and other patients around the country need as many people as possible to join the Be the Match Registry, a national program that connects patients to non-related registry members willing to donate their healthy bone marrow or stem cells.
"We're going to keep fighting until we find her a match," says Gary. "Malena was diagnosed in May 2013, but before that she had tremendous headaches and fatigue. She looked very pale. We thought maybe it was the flu. Turns out she was anemic and had leukemia. We got her treatment immediately. She's been getting blood transfusions and platelet transfusions and all sorts of medicines to help keep this under control until we can find a match. If we don't find a match, it's going to be bad, so it makes you very nervous. But, I keep the faith."
"It's been hard for them to find a match for me because I'm biracial and there aren't a lot of donors out there who are biracial," notes Malena. "But it just takes one! And it's not just about me. There are millions of people who could potentially be the match for someone.
"To register, it doesn't take much. All you have to do is get your cheek swabbed (with a cotton swab to collect a sample for the registry). If you're thinking it's hard or it's painful to register, it's not. It's very easy and it's important. You could save somebody's life by giving something of yourself."
Malena, along with her mom, Kim, and younger brother and sister, Dorianna and Tre, moved from Cleveland to North Texas last year when Gary joined the Cowboys after five seasons as the Browns running back coach. For any teenager, moving to a new city and school is a huge transition, but Malena's transition has also included weekly visits to Children's Medical Center in Dallas.
"I missed four months of school. A teacher came to my house and brought all my work. I couldn't get behind because I didn't want to repeat my freshman year. Each week I get a blood transfusion or a platelet transfusion because my blood counts are low and my bone marrow isn't making enough of my own blood. So people have to donate blood and platelets. If I receive a bone marrow transplant, it will take everything away and I won't need transfusions. It will still be a journey, but I can be normal again."
"I remember the first time she got a transfusion, we learned there are many types of blood products, including platelets," recalls Kim. "People can help children with leukemia, not only by registering as bone marrow donors, but also by regularly donating blood and platelets. There's a real need. So we encourage everyone to find their closest blood donation centers and donate blood, platelets and sign up for the Be The Match Registry.
"I want to shout it from the rooftop, not just for my daughter, but for all the kids that are waiting. There are stories of people who have found donors from other countries. We're calling on Cowboys Nation, we're calling on NFL Nation, we're calling on everyone. If you can find in your heart that part of you that says 'I'm saving someone's life!' If this were your child, you would want someone to do this for your child and your family. This isn't just about Malena. This is about what you can do to help save a life."
For information and to register, go online to BeTheMatch.org.