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Aggie family fighting Fanconi anemia demonstrates importance of Kidz1st Fund

October 27, 2021
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Like thousands of other Aggies, Kenneth McDougall, class of 2000, was spending a Saturday morning a few years ago watching SportsCenter on ESPN.

He was particularly interested in a story about Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher starting a charity to fund research for a rare disease that had stricken his son, Ethan.

“It’s such a rare disorder, and they’ve raised so much money. I remember thinking it was neat that he could do that for his son,” McDougall said.

What McDougall didn’t know then was his own daughter would be helped by Fisher’s Kidz1stFund.

McDougall, an electrical engineer in the United States Space Force, and his wife, Amber, have nine children. Seven were adopted.

The youngest, Naomi, was a typical 7-year-old. She liked to play with her older biological twin brothers, Harvey and Oliver, whom the McDougalls also adopted.

“It’s a real gut punch. It was hard to believe. It was hard to accept. It’s very said in that moment.”
- Kenneth McDougall

But one day last June, Amber noticed something wasn’t quite right. Naomi had been complaining about stomach aches. She was occasionally throwing up.

Amber decided to take Naomi to see a doctor at the clinic at Fort Belvoir, Va. Blood tests were taken, and Amber and Naomi went back home.

Soon afterward, the doctor called.

Amber was told to get Naomi to the emergency room at Fort Belvoir. From there, she was taken by ambulance to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Her red blood cell and platelet counts were dangerously low.

“We were there for a week,” Kenneth said. “They treated her with blood transfusions, platelets and antibiotics. They were thinking it was most likely leukemia.

“Amber is an internet research guru. She said it sounded like something called Fanconi anemia.”

Further tests confirmed that Naomi was indeed suffering from Fanconi anemia, the rare blood disorder that Ethan Fisher has.

“When I found out, I felt like I had lost my child to a certain extent,” Kenneth said. “When you hear that, the hopes and dreams you have for your child — that she has — there is a grieving knowing that’s probably not going to happen. It’s a real gut punch. It was hard to believe. It was hard to accept. It’s very sad in that moment.”

Amber added: “We had millions of questions because we’ve never heard of it. Then you’re devastated because you see the outlook.”

A Fanconi anemia diagnosis was once a virtual death sentence. However, charities like Fisher’s have funded research that has significantly increased life expectancy and given hope for those stricken and their families.

“We had millions of questions because we’ve never heard of it. Then you’re devastated because you see the outlook.”
- Amber McDougall

The military referred the McDougalls to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the closest hospital to their home with the ability to treat Naomi.

She needed bone marrow transplants. That required finding a donor. Poring over the National Bone Marrow Registry provided no answer.

“It’s complicated. It’s not like blood,” Amber said. “We looked nationally and internationally. There were no matches or nobody willing to do it.”

Finally, they just looked at home. Harvey and Oliver were tested to see if they were acceptable donors.

There are 10 factors doctors look for to match a donor to a patient. Harvey matched half of them. Doctors preferred a stronger match, but there were no other options.

Harvey donated bone marrow to his little sister.

Blood cells were taken from Harvey’s body. Stem cells were then extracted. The stem cells were then mixed into a “slush” that was injected into Naomi.

“That’s where research is going into bone marrow transplants and stem cells,” Kenneth said. “These are the areas Kidz1stFund has led to something where we have sci-fi bone marrow transplants, so a half match can support a transplant, and a brother can save his sister’s life.”

Naomi also had to undergo chemotherapy treatments. It’s been quite an ordeal for a young girl. The worst part?

“Probably having to leave your family,” Naomi said.

“She has always been tough,” Amber added. “Her toughness is serving a purpose.”

The McDougalls had to be tough, too. Such an ordeal also takes a toll on family members.

TexAgs
A smiling Naomi with her parents and bone marrow donor brother, Harvey.

Kenneth found a measure of solace by posting their story on TexAgs forums. He was stunned by the response.

There were notes of encouragement. He was thanked for sharing the story. Some said they were moved to tears.

Others sent private messages offering to help defray medical expenses.

No worries. The military has it covered.

The McDougalls also heard from Kirstin Rayborn, the execute director of Fisher’s Kidz1stFund.

“She reached out and said they got a letter from a family about us,” Kenneth said. “She said Jimbo saw it, and it touched him.”

She also said members of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets and some football players planned to get swabbed to determine if they would be suitable bone marrow donors.

Rayborn told them Jimbo would be sending them a package. It has not yet arrived, but they understand he’s busy working to hopefully finish off a 10-2 season and a top-ten recruiting class.

Besides, they’ve already got the gifts they wanted.

Naomi has had her bone marrow transplant and is 100 percent engrafted. A long recovery remains, but she is scheduled to be discharged from the hospital by the end of the week.

Discussion from...

Aggie family fighting Fanconi anemia demonstrates importance of Kidz1st Fund

3,862 Views | 12 Replies | Last: 1 mo ago by John Cocktolstoy
jbirdag96
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cobra c 74
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What a great family!!
What a great family all Aggies are!!
Please call me 913 645 3934 so we can get straight why I can not access and what you need from me to make this happern
Racer X
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NewOldAg
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larryj41
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Great family and great story, Olin!
Gil Renard
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TheWoodsAg
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AG
Great story. $41.38 baby
Caesar4
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82 TAMU Ag
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Praying for Naomi and the entire McDougall family!
Z Team
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AG
Misread as Aggie family fighting Francionne anemia.

Actually calling it fighting against Francionne anemia might motivate more Aggies to give to the cause.
Hehateme1
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John Cocktolstoy
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Awesome great to hear she is doing better!

Websider Todd44 GigEm
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