When 13-year-old Benjamin Gulizia-Cowing was diagnosed with leukemia on July 20, his family put out the word that they needed help finding a bone marrow donor who was O negative and who preferably is of his specific ethnic mix.
That includes the Ashkenazi Jewish, Scottish and English of his father Daniel Cowing, and the Sicilian, Italian and Scandinavian of his mother Mary Ann Gulizia.
Shortly thereafter, they learned a social worker at Children’s Memorial, where he is being treated, was a match. But because the social worker had a back problem, she was ruled out as a donor.
“I just assumed it would not be a problem,” Gulizia said.
That’s when Ben’s uncle, Oak Park resident Lee Kantz, sprang into action and helped organize a Bethematch.org bone marrow drive from 9:00 to 11:30 a.m. Oct. 27 at Oak Park Temple, 1235 N. Harlem Ave.
The drive seeks donors ages 18 to 44 to allow a simple swab to be taken and have their information added to the international registry. Those who participate should be prepared to help anyone who is a match, Kantz stressed.
“They could be matched with Ben, which would be wonderful, but they could save the life to someone around the world with any number of blood diseases,” he said.
If someone is a match for Ben, that person would undergo an additional health screening to rule out any problems. A suitable donor then would undergo an outpatient procedure to remove the marrow, which would replace itself between four to six weeks.
Ben already has undergone two rounds of chemotherapy. He will continue with chemotherapy until a bone marrow match is found, his mother said.
Like many boys his age, Ben signed up to play baseball in the spring of 2013. And like many boys who play baseball, the junior-high student at Chicago’s Lane Tech College Prep High School got knocked around and suffered a few bruises as well as aches around the knees his mother wrote off as growing pains.
“He started coming up with minor injuries and on and off low-grade fevers,” Gulizia said. Ben also often seemed fatigued.
But after an injury in which he and another boy got banged up, the coach’s wife, a surgeon, suggested both boys be taken to their family physicians to make sure they were OK. That led to six weeks of doctor’s visits that ended in the suggestion that Ben be given an ultrasound and blood test.
“Something just told me get him over for the blood test right away,” Gulizia said. “I thought, “‘Hmm, something’s up,’ never imagining something like this.”
A day later, the family received the bad news.
“I can only be so thankful he was getting these injuries, because I otherwise would have had no reason to take him in to the doctor’s,” Gulizia said.
Now an eighth-grader with a strong leaning toward math and science, Ben was matter-of-fact about the diagnosis.
“He said, ‘I thought it must be a blood thing because it was so random,’” Gulizia said. “So he in his own head was thinking what was wrong. He’d basically diagnosed himself.
“He’s very strong-willed, strong-minded. It bothers the adults around him more than it bothers him.”
Because his immune system is comprised from the chemotherapy, Ben is taking his lessons at home with a tutor provided by his school. The family offers regular updates on Caringbridge.com.
For more information on donating bone marrow, visit www.bethematch.org.