Thirteen-year-old Julia Jenkins saved all three of her brothers by donating bone marrow— twice—without which her siblings could not have survived a rare blood disorder.
In 2008, Julia’s two-year-old brother was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a rare cancer.
"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 their mother, Christy Jenkins.
Then, Julia’s six-year-old brother John began suffering from severe stomach problems. Exactly two years later after Will's diagnosis, while he was undergoing chemotherapy, John was diagnosed with the same cancer.
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While Berkitt’s lymphoma is not usually genetic, a specialist had the boys tested for XLP, a genetic immune disorder that caused similar symptoms. Both bothers tested positive for it— as did their two-year-old brother Matthew.
"Here I was approached with the plate of, 'All three boys need a bone marrow transplant to possibly survive,'" said Christy Jenkins.
Julia, who did not have the disease, was tested for a bone marrow match.
"I remember getting my blood tested, like sticking a needle in my arm," Julia said.
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Despite the odds, Julia's bone marrow matched perfectly with all three of her brothers. At eight years old, though, Julia didn’t know what a transplant would entail.
"But, I said yes, because they're my brothers," said Julia.
Julia underwent the first of two bone marrow transplants, with doctors at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital anesthetizing her and drawing bone marrow from her hip. When Matthew’s body rejected the cells, she had to donate again a year later, sitting for eight hours so stem cells could be filtered from her blood.
"It was, like, all these big needles, and now I'm not that scared of needles," Julia said. "Like going to get shots, some people are like terrified of them, but I'm not, like, at all."
The three brothers—and Julia—are all alive and well this Christmas. The boys get weekly shots to boost their b-cell count, but other than that they live completely normal lives.
“The needles were big and fat, but I knew it was totally worth it because this one-time thing could help one living, breathing person live a long life,” Julia wrote in a blog post for Dedicated to All Better by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
She concluded: “It’s an honor to be someone’s hero. My brothers don’t always see me as their hero, but I know I am. You too can be someone’s hero and save a life."