An Anchorage boy needs a life-saving stem cell transplant, but finding a match has been tough

Published: May. 3, 2022 at 4:20 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Tiberius Newbill celebrated his birthday in a Seattle hospital. The grinning 6-year-old from Anchorage got plenty of cards and presents, but his mother, Tasha Newbill, said the one gift they were hoping for still hasn’t come through.

“The best present Tiberius could get this year is to find a donor for him,” she said.

Nearly a year ago Tiberius was diagnosed with AML, a serious form of childhood leukemia. Newbill said they were on a plane the next day to the Seattle Children’s Hospital and have been there ever since.

During the past 11 months, Tiberius has gone through several rounds of chemotherapy and other treatments, even an experimental stem cell transplant that didn’t take.

“He had his first stem cell transplant in November of last year and, unfortunately, he relapsed after 80 days,” Newbill said.

The procedure used stem cells from Tiberius’s father, but Newbill said what they really need are stem cells from an unrelated donor, although finding a match with Tiberius’s diverse ethnicity of Black, white and Alaska Native has proven extremely difficult.

“There are approximately 4.1 million donors right now on the registries around the world,” she said. “And there was no one for Tiberius.”

Christy Youngblood is hoping to help Tiberius by getting more Alaskans on the registry. A cancer survivor herself, Youngblood is a volunteer ambassador for the nonprofit Be The Match, which helps patients get life-saving transplants of bone marrow and blood stem cells. She’s helping to organize two donor registry events that could benefit Tiberius, including one that people can do online.

“To join the registry you need to be 18 to 40 years old, meet the health guidelines and be willing to donate to anyone in need,” she said.

Youngblood said people can go to the website and use a QR code to order a free kit that is sent to their home.

“It’s just a simple swab of your cheek, (you) send it back in and you are on the registry,” she said.

The Alaska Native Medical Center, where Youngblood works, is holding an in-person registry event on Monday, May 9 that is open to the public. The drive will take place outside the center’s main rotunda entrance from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Youngblood said it, too, involves a quick cheek swab so that people can be tissue typed. If people match a patient in need, they’ll be contacted to make a donation which Youngblood said is likely to be a procedure that resembles giving blood.

Newbill said she’s grateful for all the support their family has already received, but she’s praying for one more thing.

“I’m really, really hopeful that we’ll find someone out there who can match our son and help give that gift of life,” she said.

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