It was every parent’s worst nightmare; Austin and Bailey Cook of Spring Hill received the awful news that their precious 1-year-old son Avery Cook had been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)—the most common type of leukemia for children. They saw the evidence of his illness in the form of bruises that afflicted his body, revealing the outline of his spine, shoulders, and hip bones. He underwent treatment but relapsed with a more deadly cancer, acute myeloid leukemia (AML), soon afterward. His parents were devastated to learn that Avery needed a bone marrow donation to survive, yet neither of them qualified as a full match.
Soon after and thanks to assistance from their doctors, who contacted the Gift of Life Marrow Registry, an ideal match was made. And aside from getting their happy, healthy, now 3-year-old boy back, the Cooks also got a family friend; as well as a strong personal commitment to helping other families in their situation.
“A total stranger turned out to be a 100 percent match,” said Bailey Cook. “This one person saved my son’s life.” This person was Jamie Lowe, a registered Gift of Life donor who joined the registry in 2016 after watching a segment about bone marrow donations during the Chelsea (Handler) show on Netflix. The registry, according to Marti Freund, director of Organizational Advancement at Gift of Life, said that the registry has facilitated thousands of transplants throughout the course of the organization’s 30-year history, with the ongoing goal of curing blood cancer through cellular therapy. This help is greatly needed as, according to information released through the Gift of Life Marrow Registry and Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the American Cancer Society, in Florida, there will be an estimated 148,010 new cancer cases in 2021. Leukemia (a blood cancer) will strike 61,090 Americans this year, including 6,660 people in Florida. About 10,500 children in the United States under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with cancer in 2021. Childhood cancer rates have been rising slightly for the past few decades and leukemia is the second leading cause of cancer death among children, adolescents, and young adults younger than 20 years. While a bone marrow or stem cell transplant can serve as a cure for leukemia and other blood cancers, only 30 percent of patients have a matching donor in their families. The remaining 70 percent must hope that a compatible stranger can be found using the national registry. At any given time, about 7,500 Americans are actively searching the national registry for an unrelated donor.
It’s people like Jamie Lowe who are answering the call.
“I signed up five years ago after I saw Kristen Bell talk about the Gift of Life,” said Lowe, then a New York resident. The ability to give the gift of life was a precious one to Lowe, whose mother had lost her own life after a battle with Cancer. “We felt hopeless as we watched her die. If I could give hope to someone, that meant everything,” he revealed.
In 2019, Jamie Lowe was identified as the perfect match for Avery Cook. And April 13 of this year, Avery and his parents had the opportunity to meet and thank Jamie at the inaugural Gift of Life Marrow Registry Golf Tournament hosted by pro football Hall of Famer Cris Carter along with other former National Football League players, including Dolphins greats Mark Duper and Jed Weaver.
“Moments like this are life-changing for all of us. We love to give donors and families the chance to meet publicly,” said Freund of the Palm Beach event.
The real stars of the show were Jamie and Avery who, to the surprise of no one, became fast friends. “I had a feeling beyond words. We were all tears,” said Lowe, regarding his meeting with the Cook family. Jamie was also thrilled to see that, thanks to his gift, Avery’s health, and spirit have been blissfully restored. “He’s adorable, happy, and healthy,” he said.
These sentiments are echoed by Avery’s mom, Bailey Cook.
“My son is the best thing ever. He is fun, outgoing, he loves to play,” she praised.
Bailey credits Jamie’s donation with making a “night and day” difference in the life of her son. “As long as Jamie lives, he has friends in us. He is now a part of our family,” she says.
Lucky for the Cooks, their friend and hero has relocated to Orlando, the home of his father. He intends to stay in touch with the Cooks, who themselves now have elected to become Gift of Life donors.
“My husband and I have signed up for Gift of Life. We have received a blessing–one we someday hope to pass on to another family,” said Bailey Cook.
Spread your own sunshine by becoming a donor with Gift of Life by visiting https://www.giftoflife.org/register. To give time or money, visit https://www.giftoflife.org/page/content/getinvolved.