Little Rock teacher waiting for lifesaving bone marrow transplant

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A Little Rock woman is waiting for a life-saving bone marrow transplant, and she’s getting a lot of help from some lifelong friends. 

Tonya Courtney-Nichols has been housebound in the months since finding out she had cancer. 

“I never was expecting it,” she said. “I was not even accepting the diagnosis.”

A kindergarten teacher at Little Rock’s Wakefield Elementry, Courtney-Nichols says she went to the emergency room last September with what she thought was a cold. Within hours, she says doctors diagnosed her with leukemia. From that day the 48-year-old says she spent a month in the hospital undergoing treatment. 

“I’ve had five rounds of chemotherapy since September,” she explained. 

Courtney-Nichols hasn’t been able to work since her immune system is compromised. She has to keep a port inserted in her chest, where doctors at UAMS give daily blood and platelet transfusions. Even that, she knows it’s far from a cure. 

“I need a bone marrow transplant, but right now there’s no donor,” she added. 

She says doctors told her finding a match would be a long shot. Now decades after college rush, her Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) sisters are rushing in to help. 

“We want to do everything we can to ensure that she’s here for as long as she can be,” said AKA sister Katrina Owoh, who’s President of Little Rock’s Beta Pi Omega chapter. 

The sisters held a bone marrow drive at one of their Little Rock meetings. Without a match, they’re now planning another event in April and asking anyone who’s able to come out. 

“It does not take very long,” Owoh said. “It’s a simple swab and you could potentially save a life.”

The sorority is teaming up with the nonprofit “We Delete Blood Cancer,” to add potential donors to its international registry.  

The drive involves doing a swab inside your cheek, then you’ll be notified if there’s someone you match. 

“I really just pray that God has that donor out there for her,” AKA sister Vickie Williams said. “Just please come out.”

Sorority sister Michelle Smith, who’s the Director of Minority Health at the Arkansas Department of Heatlh says one of the biggest hurdles to finding a match is ethnicity. 

“We want other African Americans to be in the system so they can also be a match for someone else,” she explained. 

It’s a reality Courtney-Nichols says her doctors warned her about. 

“They told me the same day I needed the transplant it would be difficult to find for any ethnicity besides Caucasian,” she recalled. 

That’s not stopping the mom of three from hoping for the best. 

“I’m just going to stay positive and I will find a donor,” she said.

If that doesn’t happen, she says the chances of helping someone else are the best tradeoff. 

“It takes about 4 hours from your life but will extend that person’s life. You could save someone’s life.”

The bone marrow drive will be at St. Mark Baptist Church off 12th Street in Little Rock on Sunday, April 28th. It runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

You can find more information about the drive by clicking here

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