For more than a decade, Briana Stephens, a Macon mom and graduate student, has been looking for the perfect match. Not a romantic match, but one that could save her life.
Stephens, 25, is looking for a match so she can receive a bone marrow transplant. She has aplastic anemia, a form of blood cancer.
She was diagnosed with the illness when she was 12 and so far has been unable to find the right donor.
Only about 23% of African Americans, who like Stephens are in need of a bone marrow transplant, are likely to find a match, according to Be The Match, a nonprofit organization that helps people in critical need of a bone marrow transplant.
Stephens, who has a 6-year-old son, Tabiaz, spoke with a reporter from The Telegraph on a recent evening, moments after arriving home from one of her required daylong medical appointments. She was still wearing her plastic patient identification bracelets when she sat down to talk.
When she was younger, Stephens said the illness kept her from doing some of the normal things most teenagers do, but even then she didn’t realize how serious it was having aplastic anemia.
As she has grown older, the disorder has forced her to make major adjustments in how she lives, especially with an active son.
“I kind of plan my weeks on Sundays because with my illness I get tired easily,” she said. “I plan ahead. I visit the doctor weekly now. I used to go probably every other month or less (frequently.) I get blood and platelet checks done and all kinds of different blood work done.”
She said she also has to have frequent blood transfusions.
Despite her illness, Stephens owns and operates a T-shirt making business, loves taking photographs and is attending Middle Georgia State University.
In addition, Stephens has become an avid supporter of Be The Match. She was honored last week for her efforts in helping increase awareness about the need for donors, especially for ethnically diverse donors.
While the organization provided more than 6,000 life-saving marrow transplants last year, there are still thousands of patients like Stephens, waiting for their perfect match, according to Alex Mensing, marketing manager for Be The Match Foundation.
“By sharing her story and spreading awareness for Be The Match, Briana has inspired people to join the Registry to potentially help a patient who needs them - even if it doesn’t end up being her. How selfless is that?” Mensing said.
Stephens said her faith in God and raising her son has helped keep her focused on being positive and on the future.
“I know that I’ll be healed one day so I can help somebody. Like this is my purpose, like, I was here for this,” she said.
To find out more about how to become a donor, visit the Be the Match website.