Keely Campbell just graduated from Marcus High School in Flower Mound. The pandemic forced her to finish her senior year from home and prevented her from walking in a commencement ceremony, but Keely is looking ahead to college.
And she’s already making her mark in the world. After watching her father fight his own illness, Keely started advocating for others—especially young people—to join the national Be The Match marrow and blood stem cell donor registry. She’s walking the walk, recently becoming a donor herself.
So we asked Keely to share her story.
18 years ago, I was born in the unlikeliest of circumstances. A year and a half prior, my dad had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He was 36 years old at the time and was raising my two sisters, Meghan and Cassie, with my mom, Stacey.
After learning more about his condition and undergoing numerous tests, he began chemotherapy—a treatment he was told would prevent him from being able to have additional children. My parents knew the chance of having another child was slim. However—to their surprise—in late 2001, I was born.
For the next several years, my dad continued his treatment but eventually my family knew it was time to consider the possibility of a blood stem cell transplant.
The transplant is meant to replace unhealthy blood-forming cells with healthy ones. It was 2007 when our family became involved with Be The Match. Be The Match uses its national registry to find matches for people like my dad, who at the time didn’t have one.
We learned that 70% of patients do not have a matching donor in their family, so they rely on unrelated donors from places like Be The Match.
At the age of 6, I remember volunteering at drive after drive, encouraging people to join the registry. I remember my mom would always keep donation kits in her purse and hand them out to people, hoping they would register and be the long-lost match my dad was looking for. In 2010, our hard work paid off and my dad matched with a man named James from Canada. He got his transplant when I was 8 years old.
My dad was so strong throughout the entire procedure. The transplant kept him going, allowing us to spend precious years with him.
Even though he was doing better, he faced his fair share of health scares along the way. In 2015, our whole world was crushed when we lost him. He passed away from heart failure.
Throughout my whole life, I knew how important it was to join the registry. My sisters registered when they turned 18, and when I turned 18, I knew I needed to register too. I know what it’s like to be in a family waiting for a match to come through, and I know how long it can take.
I could be a match for somebody. I wanted to provide that hope, save a life or give someone a few more years with their family like James did for my dad. That’s why I signed up.
I joined the registry in February this year. Just two months later I found out I was a potential match for a patient in need.
I was so excited and overwhelmed with emotion! I came out of my room to tell my mom, and I just started crying. It felt just like it did back when we found out my dad had a match. All of those emotions came back.
My donation day was in April, right in the middle of COVID-19. I wasn’t nervous about the procedure at all, but all I could think was, Don’t get sick. This person needs your cells and you can’t get sick. I kept thinking about how the recipient was doing and hoping that I could help.
After the donation, my whole family was emotional. My mom kept saying how ironic the situation was—she had me, her miracle baby, who was now able to save another person’s life.
I still don’t know who my transplant recipient is; I need to wait a year to find out.
Now that I graduated from Marcus High School, I’m headed to the University of Alabama to study medicine. I hope to one day be a pediatric oncologist. Each day I pray to God that my decision to be a marrow donor will pay off and, maybe one day, lead me to meet my recipient. And I hope they’ll want to meet me too.
For more information on how you can be a donor, visit bethematch.org or text CURE153 to 61474.
Photo courtesy of The Campbell Family.