HAMIOTA — Zachi Espayos isn’t your average 11-year-old.
Next month, the Grade 6 Hamiota Collegiate student will donate bone marrow to her younger sister, Zoey, who suffers from Alpha-thalassemia.
If the procedure is successful and the bone marrow takes, Zachi will again be called upon to donate to Zoey’s twin, Zayne, who also suffers from the rare blood disorder.
"I want to help," Zachi said holding Zoey in her arms while sitting across from her mother Reina, who was holding Zayne at Mom’s Kitchen in Hamiota.
While she didn’t hesitate after it was learned that she was the best match for her twin sisters in the family, Zachi admits there’s some trepidation ahead of the transplant.
"I’m a little bit nervous, but I was hoping for sisters and I want little sisters," she said with determination in her voice.
Reina, who moved to Canada from the Philippines in 2010, said it has been a "roller-coaster" of emotions since learning she and her husband, MJ, were pregnant with twins.
After struggling with previous pregnancies, Reina and MJ underwent genetic testing that revealed they were both carriers of the gene that causes the disorder. While discussing how to continue to grow their family, they found out Reina was pregnant again.
Months into the pregnancy, the twins were tested in the womb and came back positive for the disorder that can cause anemia, or a decrease in the amount of red blood cells, and often causes death.
There was a chance one or neither of the twins would make it to birth, and Reina said the doctors gave them several options, including terminating the pregnancy.
"There (seemed like there was) no hope," Reina said, her eyes filling with tears as she recounted remembering how she felt when the doctors told her there was a good chance the babies wouldn’t survive.
Despite the prognosis, the couple knew what they had to do.
"For me and my husband we wanted to keep the babies and for us it was right," she said.
After several blood transplants during the pregnancy, on Aug. 30, 2013, Reina gave birth to the twins.
"We’re so blessed," she said, adding that Zayne was born with an enlarged heart but has since been cleared by doctors.
"It’s a miracle," Reina said bouncing Zayne on her lap. "They gave me some hope."
The couple is also thankful for all the support they’ve received from their new community.
"We’re really amazed. Wow, we’re lucky we’re in a small town like this," Espayos said. "They’ve been supporting us every minute and we’re so blessed that they’re all there."
Even while speaking with Reina, a woman approached her asking where should could donate to help the family, a testament to the small-town mentality in Hamiota.
But for the Espayos’s, their journey is just beginning.
The twins have started taking chemotherapy pills that will destroy the bone marrow in their body and deplete their immune system, all in preparation of the transplant, which will take place in Winnipeg and force the family to spend anywhere from four to eight months away from home.
Reina said she they aren’t sure how they will pay for all of the costs associated with it.
Her doctor wrote the Canadian Embassy about the need for assistance and the government allowed Reina’s mother to come from the Philippines to help the family.
The transplant will mean Reina will have to temporarily leave her full time job at the Hamiota Kids Club and her casual job as a health care aid at the personal care home.
MJ works at a hog barn in the area and will take a few weeks off at the beginning before returning home to work so they can pay their mortgage.
Last night, the community hosted a barbecue with all of the proceeds going to help offset the costs the family will incur.
Anyone wishing to donate can call Airdrie Knight at 204-764-2802.
"We’re just so thankful and looking forward to the girls’ health," Reina said.
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