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The journey to healing through a bone marrow transplant: Zoe’s story

March 13, 2015

Zoe is a vivacious 10-year-old who loves to spend time with her family, especially her sister, Eva. You would never know that just two years ago, she was fighting for her life as she underwent a bone marrow transplant, the only treatment that could offer Zoe the chance to live a healthy, normal life.

When Zoe was born on April 30, 2004, her doctors were concerned that she might have a blood disorder. After spending three weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at St. Luke’s – Roosevelt hospital in New York City, Zoe and her parents headed home without definitive answers or a diagnosis to explain the problems she faced. For the next several years, Zoe’s condition continued to affect her, limiting the activities she could participate in.

During Christmas 2011, Zoe became ill with swine flu, as well as strep throat. While many children may be able to overcome these obstacles, Zoe’s body wasn’t able to fight these illnesses. Concerned, Zoe’s pediatrician sent her directly to Arnold Palmer Hospital to see the team at the Center for Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders. Over the next year and a half, Zoe’s platelet counts dropped to nearly zero, she became reliant on blood and platelet transfusions, and she underwent a variety of tests to try to identify the origin of her health issues. Zoe was diagnosed with aplastic anemia from unknown origins, a condition that occurs when one’s body stops producing enough new blood cells. Her only treatment option was a bone marrow transplant, which could provide Zoe complete healing – something her parents had hoped for since the day she was born.

Learning that Zoe needed a bone marrow transplant left her family wondering, who would be the donor? Fortunately, Zoe’s little sister, Eva, was a perfect match and agreed to help her sister get better. In the days following, Zoe’s family temporarily relocated to All Children’s Hospital in St. Pete, where Zoe would undergo her transplant and spend the next few months in recovery.

Looking back, Kristi says, “It was so stressful and scary going through it . I knew that Eva would recover, but the future was unknown for Zoe. The doctors can never promise you the best results, so you never know what the next day will bring. However, I was so grateful for the doctors at both Arnold Palmer Hospital and All Children’s Hospital for putting up with me and answering all of my questions during that difficult time.”

Even though Zoe had the best possible outcome after her transplant, there were still tough days for her family. Given that her parents were balancing the role of being Zoe’s caretaker in St. Petersburg and their life back home in Orlando where their other two children continued to go to school, they relied heavily on the support of friends and family. Kristi educated herself as much as she could about Zoe’s medical condition to help care for her through the most difficult days. She remembers:

“I felt that I couldn’t control the outcome, but if I could put 100% of my energy into becoming an advocate for Zoe, then I would know I’ve done all I could.”

After spending nearly 100 days in the hospital, Zoe was finally able to go home – the very thing she was looking forward to the most. Not only did the bone marrow transplant treat Zoe’s diagnosis of aplastic anemia, she is now at no higher risk of health complications than your average, healthy child!

Zoe is making up for time lost time by actively pursuing activities such as gymnastics and aerial silks, an activity where participants perform aerial acrobatics while hanging from a special fabric. At home, you will most likely find her playing with her sister, Eva, to whom she is incredibly grateful for helping save her life. When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, Zoe quickly replies, “a bone marrow doctor.” Go figure!

Having gone through the unimaginable, Kristi says that her family’s perspective on life is forever changed. She says:

“You realize when you go through things like this that your health is one of the most important things in life. We are just so grateful for this amazing technology that was able to cure Zoe of her illness, and we are thrilled to hear that Arnold Palmer Hospital will be getting a bone marrow transplant  soon!”

April 2, 2013 is a date that Zoe and her family will always remember – the day of her bone marrow transplant. But this year, that date marks two years post-transplant and is a day that can now be remembered as one that gave Zoe life and the chance to be a happy, healthy, normal child.

To support kids like Zoe and their families, make a donation at to ensure that kids who are diagnosed with cancer or blood disorders in Central Florida will be able to stay close to home during treatment. The funds raised through Arnie’s March supports the Center for Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders at Arnold Palmer Hospital.