Fairfield senior fights blood disease
Fairfield High School senior Cody Cohen has been missing school and needs the help of his classmates and community.
Cohen was diagnosed a month ago with a blood cancer disease, Myelodysplastic Syndrome, also known as MDS and formerly known as preleukemia. His bone marrow isn’t producing healthy blood cells or enough blood cells.
A bone marrow transplant is needed to reverse his disease.
MDS was in the national news today, as ABC’s Good Morning America’s host Robin Roberts returned to the show after receiving a bone marrow transplant in August to treat the disease.
Finding a matching donor is the goal of two local donor registry drives in Fairfield:
• 8 a.m. to noon, Friday at Fairfield High School gym.
• 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Jefferson County Health Center, Conference Room.
If school is cancelled Friday due to weather, the registry drive at FHS will be held Monday, 8 a.m. to noon in the gym, said Mary Hill school nurse.
“Friends and family of Cody Cohen are hosting donor registry drives to raise awareness about the need for marrow donors and encourage the community to consider joining so more patients can have the transplant they need,” according to a news release from the University of Iowa Marrow Donor Program.
Individuals ages 18 to 44 can register at either of these two registry drives and will be shown how to swab the inside of their cheek to collect skin cells. A simple cheek swab provides DNA to find donor matches.
Residents participating will be signing up with the UI Marrow Donor Program and Be The Match Registry, and could be called for any patient in need of a bone marrow transplant, not only Cohen.
If called to donate bone marrow, an individual is always given a choice to participate.
“Once on the registry, donors’ names will stay on the registry until their 61st birthday,” said Julee Darner, donor services coordinator at UI Marrow Donor Program.
“Donors between the ages of 18 and 44 are most desired because data has shown that donors in this age range are requested by transplant doctors 90 percent of the time,” said Darner. “Younger donors are best for patients because they provide the greatest chance for transplant success.”
It is free to register, although it costs the program about $100 for each person added to the registry, said Darner.
Any donations are accepted and donations can be made online by anyone, whether registering to be a donor or not, at bethematchfoundation.org/goto/TeamCody, but no fees will be charged for people ages 18 to 44 to register.
Be The Match website has information about the registry and medical guidelines for potential donors.
“Cody is a sweet and caring young man who loves animals and adores children,” according to the news release about the registry drives. “He’s 6 foot 3 inches now, a gentle giant. He played football all four years of high school. He has a fantastic group of friends, and his teachers and coaches love him. He needs a bone marrow transplant within the next three months. Cody and his family hope a bone marrow transplant can be found for him, and for every person who needs one.”
MDS is rare in young people, only 10 percent of cases have been found in people under the age of 60.
“Cody had his tonsils removed after Christmas,” said his mother, Laura Cohen of Fairfield. “He wasn’t doing well recuperating from surgery. He was in rough shape. We knew something was wrong.
“One night one of his tonsillectomy sites began bleeding and wouldn’t stop,” she said. “We went to the emergency room, and they had a hard time stopping the bleeding. His blood was tested and staff were startled how low some of his counts were. His platelet count was really low, that’s what helps blood clot.”
Cohen was hospitalized at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City for a few days.
“MDS is really rough on kidneys,” said Laura Cohen. “There was concern his kidneys would be damaged, so he they gave him medication to prevent damage. He was also given a transfusion.”
She said he returned to school, attending half-days, but low blood counts also cause fatigue and his immune system was too weak to fight off sickness, so he has stayed home from school.
“He’ll be admitted back into the hospital Monday to start chemo,” said his mother. “MDS is so rare in young people, there’s controversy about chemo treatments. But his blast count, his cancer cells, are so high, we’re going with chemo before a marrow transplant.
“All of us in the family have been tested and are not a good match for him,” said Laura Cohen. “The transplant team at U of I hospitals has gone out on the national donor registry a few times, looking. Hopefully, we can find a match right here in Fairfield. We’re staying positive.
“Support from the community has been amazing,” she said. “We’ve lived here five years and I cannot imagine going through this living anywhere else. We’re so grateful for the care and support.”
Anyone ages 44 to 60 also can help, said Darner. Healthy individuals in this age range can still sign the registry and supply a DNA swab, but the $100 fee is charged. Individuals older than 18 may register online and have a swab kit and instructions mailed to them.
Any costs after the initial registration are paid by the recipient, not the donor.
Saturday is Cody’s birthday. He will be 18.
Registering to be on the bone marrow donor registry could be just the gift he’s looking to receive.