St. Jude Dream Home campaign kicks off this week: Here’s Maya’s story, a young patient whose legacy lives on

Published: Mar. 21, 2022 at 5:27 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - This year marks the 60th anniversary of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital opening its doors. Since 1962, treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the childhood cancer survival rate from 20 to 80 percent.

Sadly, despite those advances, one out of five children diagnosed with cancer in this country will not survive. In this report sponsored by St. Jude, Joy Redmond shares Maya’s story.

“Maya was funny, spunky, full of life, she loved to do ballet, she loved horseback riding.”

And although cancer took her hair, it couldn’t take away Maya’s infectious smile or her sassy fashion sense, which often featured red glasses. But by age 8, Maya’s mom, Bonnie, says her normal childhood life turned upside down.

“She started having bloody noses, we took her back and forth to the pediatrician, and he just chalked it up to allergies and too many activities so we kind of backed down on activities,” Maya’s mom said. “But she started falling asleep in class in school and the teachers started saying they were a little concerned so we took her back to the pediatrician and I said look you gotta run some blood work.”

Maya was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, one of the toughest blood cancers to treat, and her only chance for a cure would be a bone marrow transplant.

“She endured the harshest form of chemotherapy known to man that wiped out all her white blood cells, she got extremely sick, she almost died. It was horrible,” her mom said.

Bonnie says after the first marrow transplant, Maya recovered and was in remission, but her cancer came back a few months later and she needed a second bone marrow transplant.

An anonymous donor in Cincinnati where Maya received her initial care was a match.

Bonnie says after the second transplant, Maya was doing great and in remission for several years.

“She lived her best life, she went back to school, danced, horseback riding, swimming, all the stuff she loved to do.”

But her cancer returned, and Maya’s only hope was a third marrow transplant.

Desperate to save their little girl’s life, Bonnie says they moved to Memphis and met with doctors at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital who gave her the only news she wanted to hear.

“We’re going for the cure,” Bonnie remembered.

Maya’s third transplant and all of her care at St. Jude didn’t cost their family a dime thanks to the generous support of St. Jude donors.

“We never saw a bill,” said Bonnie. “Everything was paid for, I mean I don’t know if a lot of people out there know, but a bone marrow transplant can cost a million dollars. So when we were at Cinn Children’s, we received two bills because she had two transplants for a million dollars.”

Sadly, Maya ultimately lost her battle at the tender age of 14. But beautiful memories of her, affectionately known as the girl with the red glasses, and her fight will live on forever.

“The experience at St. Jude was amazing. Our family will be forever indebted to St. Jude for all that they did, and we’ll continue to pay it forward to St Jude for the rest of our lives,” said Bonnie.

You can help children in the fight of their lives by supporting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through the Dream Home Giveaway campaign.

Tickets officially go on sale this Friday. If you reserve yours by the end of that day, you’ll be eligible to win not only a Dream Home but also the ultimate Memphis basketball experience -- that includes season tickets to the Memphis Grizzlies, season tickets for Memphis Tigers men’s basketball and a $1,500 Visa gift card.

Visit dreamhome.org for more details.

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