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NJ community holds drive to get 5-year-old girl bone marrow

Swab to Save a Life
Posted at 10:13 PM, Jan 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-08 23:31:33-05

SUMMIT, N.J. — Community members in the New Jersey town of Summit are coming together to support a little girl in the fight of her young life.

She has a rare form of leukemia and desperately needs a bone marrow match.

“It's an unimaginable living hell having your child go through chemotherapy,” Brian Erb told PIX11 News.

His daughter, 5-year-old Jackie Erb was just like her identical twin sister Addie until her parents noticed last spring that Jackie was bruising excessively, much more than her sister.

And even though it was the middle of the pandemic, Brian and his wife Lauren Gonnela took little Jackie for tests and then more tests until two weeks before Christmas they got the bad news:

“We got a call. It was not acute leukemia and then they said it was a rarer type of leukemia, more difficult to treat, JMML,” Erb told PIX11 News.

A bone marrow transplant is the only way Jackie can survive.

And because Brian Erb is such a beloved special education and biology teacher at Chatham High School, the school district of Chatham is holding a drive-through bone marrow screening at Chatham High School tomorrow from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., sponsored by the Be-A-Match foundation, with COVID-19 safety protocols in place and all participants staying in their cars.

“We hand them their swab kits,” Gabrielle Morales, Community Engagement Officer of Be-A-Match, told PIX11 News. “It takes 10 seconds in each cheek. Volunteers have gloves. It’s a five minute process,” she added.

Brian and his wife have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from their community.

“When you love well, you get loved well in return and I think my wife and I are really good at love well,” Erb told PIX11 News.

Already one thousand people have signed up for the bone marrow registry and they are hoping for 500 more tomorrow, as their doctors prepare Jackie’s parents for the future.

“Jackie is an identical twin and the oncologist says she’s extremely concerned that her sister could eventually develop the same leukemia,” Erb told PIX11 News.

Brian says his default position is hope and he is just hoping and praying that many people join the bone marrow registry to help his family.

For those who want to participate but cannot attend the event on Saturday, test kits will be available for home delivery upon request from Be-A-Match.

There are two ways to access a kit:

1. Go to the Be-A-Match website and register.
2. Text teamjackie (all one word) to 61474.

In-person screening is preferable due to the urgent timeline and the short window in Jackie’s treatment plan during which the marrow donation can take place.