Life for Jakobe "Kobe" Washington changed drastically roughly seven months ago on August 10. It was then he was diagnosed with a rare disease – acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Now, Communities in Florida and Dallas are hoping to find the eight-year-old a blood stem cell donor match to help save his life.
“It means the world to us and it means the world to every cancer patient who’s going through a similar situation that Kobe is going through,” said Jordan Washington, Jakobe’s father. “It’s mind-blowing to know or to hear that your child has no match, not even a single match in the system to potentially save his life. It’s really scary to know that his body is getting prepped for a transplant and that there’s not a single match out there for him available.”
It was during a baseball family trip in Georgia that Jakobe’s parents noticed something was wrong with their typically energetic son, who seemed “fatigued” and “sluggish” at the time. Imeria Price, his mother, said they noticed swelling in his lymph nodes and around his neck along with a fever. Initially, she thought it could be COVID-19 or strep throat due to some of the symptoms he was experiencing.
“We actually came back home from Georgia and we were going to take him to the ER, but we decided to let him sleep a little bit and when went to wake him up, the outside of his mouth and his lips were completely covered in these red blood spots,” Price said. “It looked like honestly someone had beaten him up in his sleep.”
For Jakobe, the past few months have consisted of plenty of hospital visits involving rounds of chemotherapy. But, now, he needs to undergo a bone marrow transplant. According to Tressa Malone, Be the Match and Icla da Silva Foundation community engagement specialist, about 70% of all blood cancer patients do not have a match in their family, causing them to look within the community for one.
“What makes Kobe even more special to finding his match is that for all African American and Black individuals they only have a 23% chance of finding their match in the community,” she said. “So, we are really looking as far and as wide as we can to find his match. To save this little man is so important.”
After multiple drive-thru events in Jakobe’s Florida community, his parents decided to extend their search to his father’s hometown of Dallas. On Saturday, Be the Match and Icla da Silva Foundation will host two drive-thru registration events at Irving Mall and New Beginnings Church in Lewisville, beginning at 10 a.m. and ending at 2 p.m. Due to the pandemic, attendees will remain in their vehicles to fill out a short registration form followed by a cheek swab. The more people in attendance at each will event will increase Jakobe’s odds of finding a match.
“We have over 20 million people on our registry and that’s just saying with that many people on the registry and we still cannot find him a match – that’s what making it so critical,” said Malone. “There is really a low percentage of African American and Black individuals on the registry, so that’s why the percentage is so low. We really look at genetic matching and somebody’s heritage does make a difference in finding a match for an individual.”
Malone noted that they look at every “ethnic group” for potential matches, so she encourages everyone to come out to support the cause calling the process “quick” and “easy.”
“We actually have over 6,200 patients each year that we are working with to try to find matches,” she said. “It is very common that we are contacted to try to find that match. If somebody is Caucasian, they have a 77% chance of finding a match just because there’s that many more individuals on the registry.”
Malone went on to say that the fear of the bone marrow biopsy combined with not being aware of the registry’s importance tends to be the cause of the small percentage of Black registrants. But, Price insists that even though it sounds “scary” overcoming one’s fear can be the difference in saving someone’s life.
“At one point in time, every week or bi-weekly, he was getting a bone marrow biopsy done just for testing,” Price said. “So, I want people to think about that when they’re scared thinking them getting a bone marrow biopsy is that bad.”
As Kobe’s quest to find a donor moves ahead, he continues to look toward the future. One day, he hopes to become either a professional baseball player or an aerospace engineer. His hobbies include STEM projects and doing anything that involves using his brain and hands. Even though his hospital visits can become exhaustive, Jakobe’s spirit and faith remain high.
“He always finds a way to bring himself up or push through,” said Price. “… One day he was in so much pain and he was going through a lot at that moment, and I was sitting near him and I just listened and realized he was praying to God and he wasn’t praying just for himself. He was like, ‘God, I just ask that you heal all the kids in the hospital and let them be free to go home and also me. Can you heal me, too?’”
When he’s up to it, Jakobe still enjoys going to the baseball field to see his teammates toss around the ball. At various games they show their love by wearing Kobe-themed shirts and hats letting Kobe know they support him during this time in his life. He also likes to sing church hymns and read his Bible stories to stay motivated.
“Kobe has brought in a significant amount of people to actually join the registry,” said Price. “…Over 1,000 have joined the registry because of him and out of all those people we haven’t had a match for him. But, just think about the all of the other patients specifically children out there that he can be helping by bringing a match into the system that they’re waiting for – that they’re looking for. So, this is crucial for everybody to come out and this is saving a life. If it’s not our kid’s life, our baby’s life, then it’s someone else’s child’s life.”
To register for a swab kit text "4KOBE" to 61474 or visit https://bethematch.org even if unable to attend the event