Jeana Moore’s silver hair was once strawberry. She passed that striking shade on to her daughter, Issa Bascom, and her granddaughter Jada Bascom. But when Moore greeted her newborn granddaughter in April 2007, she couldn’t foresee how the 6-pound, 14-ounce baby’s hair would change over the next two years: blond, black, brown, bald.
Two hours after Jada’s birth, Moore watched her granddaughter get whisked away by a worried nurse who’d noticed tiny red dots on the baby’s skin, a sign that her blood wasn’t clotting properly. After many tests and several weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit at Sacred Heart Medical Center, the red-haired baby was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive cancer that begins in the bone marrow.
“Your life gets turned upside down,” said Moore of her granddaughter’s medical crisis. Her daughter and son-in-law moved in with her to save money, and Moore spent a day or two each week at the hospital, giving the new parents a break so they could shower, sleep and eat while knowing Jada would never be alone.
“The family got tight,” said Moore, who took time off from her job as an interpreter for the deaf with Mead School District.
When she was six weeks old, Jada started chemotherapy, the first of five rounds. Over the next six months she had countless blood transfusions, her liver shut down, and she nearly died three times. She lost her hair four times, and each time it came back a different color.
Sometimes, said Moore, the chemotherapy caused sores that made touch painful. Then, when the sores healed, the baby wanted to be held constantly, making up for the cuddling she’d missed.
But though the chemotherapy kept Jada alive, it wasn’t enough to cure her, said Moore. She needed a bone-marrow transplant. But the National Bone Marrow Registry found no matches within the United States.
“It was hard,” said Issa Bascom, “to watch your child be sick and there is nothing you can do.”
The search expanded to an international registry, and when Jada was about 6 months old they found a match in Germany. “Looking back, it was faster than we thought, but every day feels like a year,” said Bascom of the wait.
Jada was transferred to Seattle Children’s Hospital for her fifth and most brutal round of chemotherapy to prepare for the transplant. Both parents moved with her, and Moore flew over every other week for three to five days.
On Nov. 28, when Jada was 7 months old, the donated bone marrow arrived.
“I sang her transplant song,” recalled Moore. Five months later, Jada came home.
Moore continued to baby-sit, since Jada’s regimen of drugs meant she couldn’t be in day care. “I decided we’ll be poor and I’ll commit to taking care of her,” Moore said. “Jada needed me every day.”
Finally, after almost a year of her body trying to reject the donated marrow, Jada began weaning off the immune suppressants, and Moore began looking for ways she could raise awareness about the life-saving simplicity of bone marrow donation.
“In our ordinary, everyday lives, we don’t understand the urgency families are feeling,” said Moore, adding that she hadn’t registered until she had a family member who needed bone marrow. “But some man in Germany was willing to give for a little girl to live.”
Moore said she plans to leave in October for an 18-month walk across the country, telling Jada’s story.
“I feel really excited, and I know inside myself it’s the right thing to do. I’m being called to do it,” said Moore. She has set up a nonprofit, the Jada Bascom Foundation, to help fund the endeavor and eventually contribute to many of the nonprofit organizations that helped Jada and her family. She’s also working with local blood centers and the National Bone Marrow Registry.
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