Five-year-old Cline McMurray began kindergarten at Tanglewood Elementary School this year. An active boy, Cline enjoys Legos, playing outside, hunting, fishing, and superheroes. However, in September, he got sick and has not been back to school since.
When Cline was six months old, he was diagnosed with neutropenia, a rare disease that depresses white blood cell count and has caused several serious bacterial infections to threaten his short life. Because of his risky immunity and recent illness, Cline has been homeschooled since September.
But instead of focusing on the negative, the McMurray family has developed an attitude of gratitude and is focused on reasons to be grateful this Thanksgiving.
“I tell all my friends it’s not until you’re in this situation that you realize these types of things give you an immense amount of perspective of what really matters in life,” Elena McMurray, Cline’s mom, said. “[They] make you appreciate the goodness in life.”
Even such setbacks have a bright side, McMurray said.
“I love teaching,” she said. “I am cherishing this time that I have at home with him.”
But despite the homeschooling and small-dose play dates, it isn’t easy.
“It’s been challenging from a social standpoint for sure,” McMurray said. “Cline is a very social creature.”
And there are other challenges. Cline has to wear a mask in public, and the family has become very germ-conscious. Still, they remain optimistic.
With the assistance of Delete Blood Cancer, the family has turned to the community for help and found tremendous support.
DBC is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to raise awareness and register potential donors of stem cells and/or bone marrow in order to combat blood-related diseases, Amy Roseman, registration drive organizer for Delete Blood Cancer, said.
Blood cancer patients are the most common candidates for stem cell or bone marrow transplants, but patients like Cline, who battle more rare blood diseases, can also benefit from the transplants, Roseman said. There are about 14,000 people nationwide seeking donors, but only about 40 percent will find a donor with compatible stem cells or bone marrow.
Roseman said DBC seeks to change these numbers by registering as many donors as possible to give Cline, and patients like him across the nation, a better chance of finding a match. When potential donors register with DBC, they agree to have their information put in a database and understand that, if found to be a match, they may be called upon for any patient in need of a donor.
“The need is great,” Roseman said. “We never know when our friends or family member might be affected.”
Anyone in good general health, between ages 18-55, more than 110 pounds, and with BMI under 40 can register, Roseman said.
“The actual process is very, very simple,” she said. “Especially, when you consider what all these patients go through. It takes four minutes.”
Roseman then explained the steps. After filling out a brief form, the potential donor is asked to swish water in his or her mouth and then swab the inside of each cheek for 30 seconds. Additionally, potential donors can order a free test kit online that will be sent directly to their home.
So far, there have been 29 drives across Texas searching for a match for Cline. Nearly 1,500 potential donors registered within four hours during a recent drive at Tanglewood Elementary, Roseman said.
“We feel so supported,” McMurray said. “Humanity is wonderful.”
Then she did a little math.
Statistically, there is one match for every 100 people who register, McMurray said. The family set a goal to register 5,000 potential donors. That goal was met within a week.
“It’s really cool to think 50 lives could be saved because of Cline’s story,” she said. “We want to spread awareness for saving all kinds of people’s lives.”
Roseman said Texas Christian University will host the next large bone marrow compatability drive sometime in the new year.
“The community support is really what’s going to save lives,” she said.
Meanwhile, the McMurray family plans to spend this Thanksgiving thankful for the community support and the new perspective on life.
Cline told his mom that he is thankful for his family, friends, doctors, and “people’s prayers.” He, like his entire family, is optimistic for the future. Cline also said that he plans to ask Santa to be cured of his rare blood disorder this Christmas.
“This has been a huge journey,” McMurray said. “A journey we have been grateful for… and that has made us appreciate every single day.”