Tonawanda News — With her newly awarded scholarship to Niagara University, Wheatfield resident Kristen Cavalleri hopes to spread the word about aplastic anemia, a bone marrow condition that has quietly kept her and many others under almost constant medical scrutiny their entire lives.
The Aplastic Anemia and
Myelodysplastic Syndrome International Foundation Matthew Debono Memorial Scholarship has been awarded for 26 years, this year being the first the Debono family teamed up with the AAMDS Foundation to support the effort. Matthew Debono was diagnosed with aplastic anemia when he was entering college in 1984, and passed away 18 months later.
In an effort to honor Matthew’s wish to obtain a degree, the Debono family established the scholarship fund in 1986.
Aplastic anemia and MDS are rare bone marrow failure diseases that can affect anyone, and can be inherited or acquired later in life. Bone marrow produces stem cells, a special building block in the body’s immune system that is able to grow into red and white blood cells along with platelets. Since red blood cells carry oxygen, white blood cells help fight disease and platelets help clot blood, a deficiency can have major health implications.
Kristen was still very young when her parents began to notice the symptoms of the condition, including bruising, mouth sores, nose bleeds, pale skin and fatigue. They were able to begin treatment soon after.
Patients with severe aplastic anemia receive plenty of supportive care, but long-term management most often requires a bone marrow transplant or immunosuppressive therapy.
Cavalleri is grateful her case of aplastic anemia isn’t as severe.
“I was treated in 1997 with a clinical trial that ultimately stimulates your bone marrow, and lucky enough for me, stimulated mine back into production,” she said.
Cavalleri stresses, however, the fight is not over.
“There is no known cure for aplastic anemia. The clinical trial only worked on a small percentage of people, putting them in remission,” she said.
While there is no cure for these diseases yet, a number of patients have been successfully treated with drug therapy and bone marrow transplants.
Kristen could face challenges were she to relapse, but she has not shown signs of one in over 14 years. Today Kristen has little to no limitations, outside of being instructed to avoid viruses and toxins at all costs due to her low immunity.
Looking forward to college life, Kristen is excited to start classes.
“My college plans are to attend Niagara University, majoring in communications and focusing on broadcast journalism. I hope that with a career in the media I will be able to bring more attention to aplastic anemia, and any other life-threatening illnesses,” she said.
“I have learned that sometimes you have to have the rainy days so that you can really have an understanding of how much the sunny ones mean.”
Kristen’s mother, Patty, couldn’t be more proud of her daughter.
“Kristen has been the biggest blessing in my life. In my eyes, she’s had no small successes, only huge ones.”
The Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation hopes that through scholarship winners like Cavalleri, more people will become aware of aplastic anemia and join in the fight against it.
“We congratulate Kristen on her outstanding application and academic achievements,” said John Huber, AA&MDSIF executive director. “Most of all, we recognize the enormous effort and courage involved in overcoming bone marrow failure disease. She has every reason to be proud.”
For more information on bone marrow failure diseases, visit the Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation’s website, at www.AAMDS.org. There, you can also learn more about the Matthew Debono Memorial Scholarship Program.