High School Girls

November 11, 2009

CNY Girls' Laxer Needs Bone Marrow Transplant

by Justin Feil | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Taylor Matt, shown here (top left) with her ethix Girls' Lacrosse Club teammates at a Maryland tournament in November 2008, was diangosed with leukemia when she was 11. Her diverse background has made her incompatible with any of the 7 million bone marrow donors on the Be a Match Registry.

Taylor Matt needs a hero.

Fifteen minutes on www.marrow.org and a Q-tip swab of the cheek later, and it could be you getting her back to the game of lacrosse that she has loved since fifth grade.

Taylor is a 17-year-old from just outside Syracuse, N.Y. She is a senior who was a tenacious defender last year for the Cazenovia High girls' lacrosse team that reached the state Section III Class C semifinals. She is looking forward to helping the Lakers go for the championship this spring, but isn’t sure she will get that chance.

In August, Taylor was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia and everything normal about her senior year was put on hold.

“It’s a bummer,” said Taylor, who also plays for the ethix Girls' Lacrosse Club in Syracuse. “It’s going from one world to another. I’m here and this is what I have to do.”

She has been in Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse ever since her diagnosis and already has undergone two rounds of chemotherapy, but what she really needs is a bone marrow transplant to stop the leukemia from returning forever. Her leukemia had been in remission after she was first diagnosed at 11.

“I had an appointment in June 2009 and I was completely fine,” Taylor said. “I had to come back in a couple months. In August, I knew something was wrong with me.”

Said her father, Jeffrey Matt: “Five years and two months later, it came back. Five years out, the chances of it coming back are slim. It was devastating to her. It’s her senior year. She was looking forward to it.”

Taylor can still return for her senior year, with her best chance of returning to normalcy being through a bone marrow transplant. The sooner she gets one, the better. But so far, none of the 7 million donors on the Be a Match Registry, the new name adopted for the National Bone Marrow Registry, are compatible, which is why the Matts are hoping that more people will sign up now to be donors, especially those from minority and mixed race backgrounds that are represented least on the registry.

Taylor comes from a diverse background of Greek, German, Irish and Native American heritage, making her match all the more difficult to find. But as more people register to be donors, her chances of finding a match increase. The problem is getting people to register, which is where you come in.

“At this point, I’m hoping for that match,” Taylor said. “Where I am right now, it would make this whole process so much faster. After I recover from the transplant, I can pretty much go back to my normal life. If I don’t get it, I’ll have 3-4 more rounds of chemo and hope that works. It came back last time, but they’re going to hope it works. It’s kind of a game.”

Not the lacrosse one that she took up in fifth grade.

Taylor gravitated to the defensive end and has had so many thrills playing while following her father’s footsteps. Taylor’s father, who is half Onondagan, only stopped playing box lacrosse a year ago. He grew up playing on a reservation and understands the deep Native American roots of lacrosse. He played in high school and has gone on to help start one high school program, coaches the Cazenovia junior varsity and coaches in the ethix GLC program.

Lacrosse has taken a back seat to battling leukemia, which is why 15 minutes of your time doesn’t seem like much to ask.

Less than eight percent of the 7 million registered marrow donors are African-American. Less than one percent of them are Native American. Taylor’s father has been on the registry for five years. He got on it as soon as he found out about the need, and is hoping others will now do the same.

Marrow donation is not painful and does not involve surgery.

“I don’t want people to think it’s all about us,” Matt said. “It’s for every kid. What more would you like to do than save a kid?”

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, the sorority Sigma Gamma Rho at Syracuse University is holding a Bone Marrow Donor Drive at the Student Center. The Syracuse women’s lacrosse team is promoting the event. They have adopted Taylor much like Northwestern University did in helping to start the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation.

Head coach Gary Gait is a family friend, and Taylor used to play lacrosse with his daughter and attend his clinics. A half dozen of Gait’s Orange players along with ethix GLC co-founders Beth Farrell and Adair Milmoe came to visit Taylor recently.

“That was nice,” Taylor said. “They were trying to encourage me. I did want to go to school for lacrosse. I don’t know if I’ll get to play in my senior year. I don’t know if it’ll be possible.”

A marrow transplant will go a long way toward helping. Anyone can sign up online at www.marrow.org. After completing a brief health questionnaire similar to a blood donor form, a kit is delivered with a postage-paid package to send back with a Q-tip swab sample from the inside of your cheek. You are added to the registry and contacted if you are a match to a waiting transplant patient. Monetary donations can also be made on the Website, and it also contains a list of are marrow drives in your area.

“We know it’s in her genes now,” Matt said. “We know it’s going to come back. After a couple rounds of chemo, she’ll be in remission. But how much time are we buying? The next time, if it keeps coming back sometimes you don’t go into remission.”

Race and ethnicity play a big role in matching marrow donors. The more antigens in the marrow that match, the greater chance a marrow transplant will work. The more donor registrants, the greater the chance of finding a match.

Siblings are usually the best match, but Taylor’s 13-year-old sister, Jessie, is not a match for her. Taylor’s dad and mom, Debra, who is a nurse at the hospital, are only a half-match, giving Taylor only a 30 percent chance of surviving a marrow transplant from either of them.

“That’s a last-ditch effort,” Matt said. “We decline that right now. They feel they can get her back into remission. They just don’t know how long she’ll stay there.”

Taylor wants the opportunity to return to school and the lacrosse field. The flu pandemic has forced the hospital to restrict visitations from adolescents, meaning even Jessie is unable to visit her in the hospital. Her high school friends are a risk, too, because Taylor has no immune system while undergoing treatment.

For now, she is finishing the schoolwork that her Cazenovia teachers send, filling out college applications from her Golisano bed and consulting apprehensive patients on her floor who haven’t been through treatment before. Taylor explained to a newly admitted 16-year-old last week everything that was ahead of her. She has served as a role model to younger patients.

“I think it’s kind of nice to help,” she said.

Taylor needs help too, and the Syracuse community has stepped up quickly. Cazenovia High is having a fund-raising dance.

Her ethix club is in the midst of a coin drive.

“Every time the girls come to train, they can bring change,” Farrell said. “We have a big jar. [Monday] night after practice, it was more than half full. It was the first night we did it. That’s something as a club we’re doing to have the girls involved.”

They are also helping to organize a clinic in December put on by Florida assistant Erica LaGrow, Dartmouth assistant Courtney Farrell and Princeton assistant Amy Altig. All funds from the clinic will be donated to the Matt family to help with Taylor’s expenses.

“One of the girls from my club lacrosse, her parents are setting up multiple drives,” Taylor said. “I think it’s awesome. I wouldn’t be able to do it for myself from here.”

She is looking forward to the chance to go home, if only for a week. She is not as excited about her return to the hospital for more chemo and the ensuing recovery time.

“I’m getting weaker and weaker being here,” Taylor said. “My muscles are like Jell-O. I was in such good shape this summer.”

Those aren’t her only sources of strength. She has her family and her friends and the Syracuse lacrosse community. They are hoping to expand that support circle and help raise awareness of the need to grow the bone marrow donor registry that can send Taylor home for good. Until a match is found, she will wait.

“I’m so proud of her,” Matt said. “She’s been so strong.”

For more information or to register for the Be a Match Registry, visit www.marrow.org.

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