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FOX Medical Team

Young girl donates bone marrow to save 3 brothers

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ATLANTA -

One local family is exemplifying the spirit of Christmas. A 13-year-old girl has twice donated bone marrow to her little brothers who suffer from a rare blood disorder.

At 13, Julia Jenkins doesn't always see eye-to-eye with her three little brothers. They can be rowdy and more than a little competitive. But the Jenkins kids share a connection that runs deep.
 
Julia Jenkins watched one brother get sick and then another and then another. Then she learned that she was the one person who might be able to help save them.

It started in 2008 when Will, then 2, developed a swollen lymph node in his neck. The diagnosis: Burkitt's lymphoma, a rare cancer of the lymphatic system.  

"I had asked the Lord, ‘Please don't let it be cancer.'  But then when it turned to be cancerous, I had to change my perspective and say, ‘Thank you that's it's curable. If you get it in time, it's curable, you can fight it,'" said Christy Jenkins.

Will started chemotherapy, but then John, who was 6, began having severe stomach problems.

"They diagnosed John with Burkitt's lymphoma two years to the exact day later," said Christy Jenkins.

Doctors at the Aflac Cancer Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta started looking for answers. Burkitt's doesn't usually run in families, but a specialist remembered hearing about a rare, genetic immune disorder called XLP carried by boys that could cause very similar symptoms. Blood tests showed both Will and John had XLP, as did 2-year-old Matthew.

"Here I was approached with the plate of, 'All three boys need a bone marrow transplant to possibly survive,'" said Christy Jenkins.

That's where Julia comes in.

"I remember getting my blood tested, like sticking a needle in my arm," Julia Jenkins said.

Julia was a perfect bone marrow donor match for both John and Matthew, but she was so young that she didn't even know what being a donor meant.

"But, I said yes, because they're my brothers," said Julia Jenkins.

So she did.  

In the second grade, doctors at Cincinnati Children's Hospital put Julia to sleep and gathered bone marrow from her hip for both brothers, who had undergone intense chemotherapy to wipe out their immune systems. Matthew's body resisted Julia's cells, so a year later she donated again. This time, she had to sit still for eight hours as the stem cells were filtered from her blood.

"It was like all these big needles, and now I'm not that scared of needles," Julia Jenkins said.  "Like going to get shots, some people are like terrified of them, but I'm not, like, at all."

A young woman in Texas donated marrow for Will. Julia says if she had to do it all again, she would, and she wouldn't even be scared.

Three years later, all three brothers are healthy, which makes for a pretty sweet Christmas.

"It's like a good feeling, because they're alive because of you," Julia Jenkins said.

The Jenkins boys receive weekly injections to boost their b-cell count. Other than that, they play sports and live totally normal lives.

Julia says if she needs it, she can play the "big sister card" and remind them, they "owe her big."

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