As an athlete, Courtlynn Havard has always set goals for herself to improve her game whether on the soccer or softball field. She has worked toward those goals through hard work and perseverance.
Now her goals have shifted slightly.
Courtlynn, a sophomore at Franklin Parish High School, currently has two main goals: to beat aplastic anemia and paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) and to help others.
Helping others for Courtlynn brightens her day, strengthens her and gives her hope for a better tomorrow.
From that desire to help others, the Havard family is sponsoring a bone marrow drive at Life Church in Winnsboro Feb. 20 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
The drive will be administered by DKMS, an international nonprofit organization, whose goal is to find bone marrow donors for people like Havard.
“It is simple as a swab in your cheek,” said Jaimie Havard, Courtlynn’s mother. “That could save a life. It only takes a few minutes and is so easy for you to give somebody a second chance on life.”
Anyone 18-55 with good health can participate in the drive. Participates stay in their car, watch a video on their phone and fill out a short form, said Amy Roseman of DMKS.
They are given a kit with a swab for their cheeks. The whole process takes 7-10 minutes.
Interested people can also go to dkms.org to order a free kit or go to Courtlynn's direct link: https://dkmsgetinvolved.org/virtualDrive/courtlynns-compass
The world collapses
In October, Courtlynn went to the doctor with kidney stones. When doctors took her blood, they found her blood count was low.
Her mother and Courtlynn met with an oncologist who gave them disturbing news.
“At first the oncologist thought it was leukemia,” Jaimie said. “You feel like your whole world is collapsing. I didn’t know what to say or do. Courtlynn was devastated and crying. I was trying to be strong for her.”
The Havards were then sent to LSU Health Shreveport. The medical professionals there performed a bone marrow biopsy and found she had aplastic anemia and PNH.
“You never think it can be your child,” Jaimie said. “It is really an unbelievable, indescribable feeling.”
Aplastic anemia is a condition that occurs when your body stops producing enough new blood cells, according to the Mayo Clinic. The condition leaves a person fatigued and more prone to infections and uncontrolled bleeding.
A rare and serious condition, aplastic anemia can develop at any age. It can occur suddenly, or it can come on slowly and worsen over time and can be mild or severe.
Treatment for aplastic anemia might include medications, blood transfusions or a stem cell transplant, also known as a bone marrow transplant.
PNH is a rare acquired, life-threatening disease of the blood. The disease is characterized by destruction of red blood cells (hemolytic anemia), blood clots (thrombosis), and impaired bone marrow function (not making enough of the three blood components).
PNH affects 1-1.5 persons per million of the population and is primarily a disease of younger adults. The median age of diagnosis is 35-40 years of age, with occasional cases diagnosed in childhood or adolescence. PNH is closely related to aplastic anemia.
A new world
Courtynn’s world use to evolve around sports, mud riding with her friends and being very social.
Now because of her weak immune system, she has to be careful and stay at home with her English Spaniel, Old Mack, and go to school virtually. Courtlynn talks to her friends via cell phone, computer and occasionally gets a visit from one that sits on her porch while she socially distances.
“I missed my friends the most,” Courtlynn said. “I am one of those people that get up and go. I don’t stay still.”
She also goes to doctors whether it be locally to get her blood count tested, or Shreveport to receive platelets and blood or Memphis to St. Jude’s.
Saving people around the world
“One thing that drives Courtlynn through this situation is keeping up with other kids’ situations,” Jaimie said. “There are so many stories out there of kids looking for bone marrow transplants.”
The Feb. 20 bone marrow drive is a way Courtlynn and her family can help others.
DKMS has been finding matching bone marrow donors for 30 years. They are now in the United States, Germany, Poland, India and South Africa.
“Sadly, only 2 percent of Americans have signed up as potential donors,” Roseman said. “We are hoping we will have really nice support for Courtlynn and the other patients looking for donors.”
Reasons vary for the low percentage of potential donors, but Roseman attributes not knowing the “need and ease” of the process.
“You fill out contact information, swab your cheeks and you are put in a data base that is only seen by medical teams searching for donors,” Roseman said. “We call it, ‘you’re a hero in waiting.’”
The biggest misconception is the donation of bone marrow if you are a match.
“You are asked to donate stem cells from the blood stream,” Roseman said. “It is a very easy process. It is very similar to donating plasma or platelets and takes a morning or afternoon.”
Blood is taken from one arm, and the blood is put back into the other arm, Roseman, said. Stem cells lost in the process will regenerate.
“You have given someone a second chance in life,” Roseman said.
A person may be asked to donate actual bone marrow if he or she is matched to a three year old or younger. This procedure is done in a hospital and takes less than an hour. DKMS pays for the hospital visit and time loss from work.
“It is amazing to think about giving someone a second chance on life by giving up a just morning of your time,” Roseman said.
A community comes together
The Franklin Parish community has come together in support of Courtlynn and the Havard family.
Boutique shops, individuals and restaurants have come together to raise money for her cause.
During the Feb. 20 bone marrow drive at Life Church a BBQ chicken plate lunch will be on sale for $10. T-shirts will also be on sale at the event. Keep up with all drives and Courtlynn’s journey on her Facebook page: Courtlynns Compass.
“We have a really amazing group of friends and family that have come together,” Jaimie said. “Our local community has stepped up big time. Complete strangers are showing so much love and support for my baby. It speaks volumes for our little town we live in.”