There’s a ray of hope on the horizon for 9-year-old Saniyah Joseph, who has been fighting aplastic anemia, a disease that affects her bone-marrow functions, for a year.
Saniyah was diagnosed with the disease while her parents were stationed in Italy last November. The family now is stationed stateside at Fort Story in Virginia Beach.
“Around Nov. 28 last year, we noticed some blood blisters in her mouth, on her lips and bruising on her legs, so we took her to the doctor,” said Saniyah’s mother, Salina Hargrove Joseph, who is a Bradwell Institute graduate and the daughter of Liberty County residents Levan and Hattie Hargrove. “I could tell right away from the look on the doctor’s face that something very serious was wrong.”
All of Saniyah’s blood counts were below one, Joseph said, which meant that her blood wasn’t clotting and she wasn’t making enough red and white blood platelets. Saniyah received blood transfusions immediately and continued receiving them for months.
In February, Saniyah starting taking immunosuppressives, which suppress the immune system in an attempt to get the bone marrow to work on its own in conjunction with treatment.
Saniyah is scheduled for surgery to have her portacath removed soon since she hasn’t needed a blood transfusion since April. This is a positive sign for her future.
A cure is possible with a bone-marrow transplant, and Saniyah’s family hopes to find a marrow donor through the Be the Match foundation, an organization that connects patients with life-threatening blood cancers with bone-marrow donors.
At donor drives, people can join the Be the Match registry and possibly cure a patient like Saniyah. When they are added to the registry, the donors’ tissue types are analyzed to see if they match a patient in need.
“A bone-marrow transplant would cure Saniyah, but it would also completely kill her immune system,” Joseph said. “So, hopefully, the immunosuppressants will keep her healthy so we don’t have to depend on a transplant.”
Usually, patients in this situation are put on immunosuppressants before undergoing a bone-marrow transplant, Joseph said. If Saniyah shows steady improvement for a year, she will most likely never have to have a transplant.
“The doctors are pleased with how Saniyah’s body is responding to the treatment,” her mother said. “It is hard to say if she will be perfectly cured, but her blood counts are moving up, and she seems to be moving in a good direction.”
The Joseph family tries to build awareness of bone-marrow donations so those suffering with such diseases have a better chance of being cured, especially patients of African-American descent, for whom there is a lack of donors.
“There are a lot of African Americans who need bone marrow transplants, but there aren’t enough African-Americans on the registry list,” Joseph said. “Usually patients are most likely to be a match for someone in their own race, so we need more African Americans to join the registry.”
Several marrow drives have been conducted in Saniyah’s honor in Naples, Italy, and Stuttgart, Ramstein and Weisbanden, Germany, and throughout Liberty County.
“We need to build awareness so people don’t miss out on a chance for a cure,” Joseph said.
Ten potential donors registered during a marrow drive during the Walk to Dorchester in June, and 35 students joined the registry during a marrow drive at Georgia Southern University, said Betty McCray, friend and neighbor of the Hargrove family.
Recently, “Team Saniyah” members and nursing students from Savannah Technical College’s Liberty Campus operated a booth and registered 25 potential donors, McCray said.
The Joseph family returned home Veterans Day weekend to participate in Riceboro’s annual Ricefest event. Saniyah, her parents and her brother rode in the parade.
Saniyah celebrated her ninth birthday on Thanksgiving Day. The Joseph family has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.
“We are so blessed that things are going well for Saniyah,” Joseph said. “We are so grateful for what the community has done for us.”
Team Saniyah has raised more than $6,500. Joseph said their goal is to raise $10,000 to help pay for Saniyah’s care.
The donations came from family, friends and members of First Zion Baptist Church in Riceboro, Midway Congregational Church and the Hinesville Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, among many other individual donors.
“The family is thankful for the generosity of family, friends and the caring and concerned citizens of Liberty County,” McCray said.
For more information about Saniyah, go to www.bethematchfoundation.org/goto/TeamSaniyah. For more information on becoming a donor, go to bethematch.org.