A Columbus woman’s church family is trying to help save her life by hosting a marrow donor registry drive.
Jennifer Poueriet, a 30-year-old mother of two young children, has been in and out of the hospital since Memorial Day, when she was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML).
A bone marrow transplant is what she needs to survive, said Lindie Smith, one of a large group of Community Church of Columbus members who have been supporting the Poueriet family with meals, childcare, housework, yard work, errands and more, during her illness.
“We are loving Jesus together and doing it by loving on this family,” she said. “This is the way we live out our faith.”
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Church members hope that a Marrow Donor Registry Drive from 1 to 5 p.m. Sept. 10 at Community Church, 3850 N. Marr Road, will reveal a person who could be a life-saving match for Poueriet. If not, perhaps it will reveal a match for another patient who needs a bone marrow transplant.
“Even if I don’t find a match, if we have 100 people come we might be able to save 20 lives,” Poueriet said. “We might be able to raise awareness about the disease.”
Poueriet, who is a stay-at-home mom, and her husband Pablo, a design engineer at Cummins Inc., have two children, 2-year-old Lucas and 10-month-old Oliver. They are originally from the Dominican Republic and her family lives there.
Her life changed dramatically on Memorial Day weekend when she went in to the Cummins LiveWell Center, which provides health care for Cummins employees and their families, for a check of a swollen ankle, the result of a fall earlier during Memorial Day weekend.
The on-call doctor recommended blood tests after seeing extensive bruising on her legs and ankle. The blood tests revealed an extremely high white blood cell count and that her platelets, which are tiny blood cells that help stop bleeding, were low.
She was admitted to St. Francis Hospital in Indianapolis, where she was diagnosed with AML.
“I don’t tend to be anxious about health care and I don’t worry too much,” Poueriet said of her initial reaction to be sent to a hospital. “When they told me that I had leukemia, I felt the peace that only God can give,” she said. “And then I said ‘OK, what do you need to do?’ I do think that you receive grace when you need it.”
She then spent 52 days straight in the hospital, including celebrating her 30th birthday there, but much of it away from her children, Smith said.
It was a difficult stay, involving two rounds of chemotherapy and the side effects that often follow that treatment — weakness and feeling ill, Poueriet said.
Poueriet’s illness has hit the Community Church congregation hard, Smith said.
“It kind of took our breath away,” she said. “But she’s been joyful through it.”
Her church family stepped up immediately with a show of love and support, taking care of the couple’s children, handling the household duties and providing meals, Poueriet said.
“We don’t have family here so the church has been our family,” she said.
She mentioned the church’s Moms of Preschoolers group as being particularly supportive as those moms understood the challenges of having two small children.
“I’ve never known anyone who has had cancer who is this young,” Smith said. “And even though she’s back home, she’s still very sick.”
Poueriet had her wisdom teeth taken out last week because of the risk of infection. A bone marrow transplant will require her immune system to be completely shut down prior to the new marrow being introduced.
She is now on a maintenance chemotherapy rotation, in which she undergoes five days of chemotherapy every three weeks at St. Francis.
“And then she comes home and is very sick,” Smith said. “The chemotherapy is trying to keep those white blood cells from taking over her body.”
Leukemias are cancers that start in cells that would normally develop into different types of blood cells, according to the American Cancer Society. AML starts in the bone marrow (the soft inner part of certain bones, where new blood cells are made), but in most cases it quickly moves into the blood. It can sometimes spread to other parts of the body.
AML is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow — the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made. It is more common in young people and those over age 60, and somewhat unusual for someone in their 30s, Smith said.
Be the Match, which is the National Marrow Donor Program, is a global transplant network that connects patients with life-saving bone marrow donors. Seventy percent of patients who need a transplant don’t have a full-matched donor in their family, according to Be the Match. A patient’s likelihood of finding a matching donor through the Be the Match registry is 66 to 97 percent, depending on ethnic background.
Poueriet is hopeful for a diverse turnout at the Sept. 10 registry drive could result in a match for her. Ethnicity is a factor in finding a match as there are fewer people currently on the Be the Match registry of Hispanic descent.
One of her sisters has already been tested and is not a match, and the family is awaiting results from another sister that could be revealed within the next few weeks. If she is a match, or a match is found through the registry drive, the bone marrow transplant could occur within the next month or so, she said.
Since Poueriet has been home from the hospital, the family has tried to fill an entire summer full of activities — visits to the pool, to county fairs and auto shows — into one two-week period before she has to return to the hospital.
Poueriet said the family has been attending Community Church for five years and received the church’s kindness the first time when their oldest son was born prematurely and congregation members brought meals to their home for four months.
The family is overwhelmingly grateful for this latest outpouring of support, too.
“I don’t know what we would ever do without them,” she said of her church family.
Smith said she knows the family and friends of the Poueriet family are hoping for a donor and a bone marrow transplant that will lead to their friend to being cured of the disease.
“We’re kind of reaching for a miracle here,” she said. “But God’s in the business of miracles.”
Marrow Donor Registry Drive
How it works: A marrow donor registry drive is done by collecting a cheek swab from those who are registering and sending it to the lab. No needles are involved.
For: Ages 18 to 44
When: 1 to 5 p.m. Sept. 10
Where: Community Church of Columbus, 3850 N. Marr Road
Unable to make the drive? Join “Be the Match” online at join.bethematch.org/Join4Jennifer
To learn more about leukemia, blood cancers and bone marrow transplants, visit: