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A young girl with dreams and a mother driven to save lives

Rezen Davis, searching patient

Eight-year-old Rezen lives on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, and has big dreams of becoming a fashion designer and a marine biologist. Her mother, Ristina, describes Rezen as having the grace of God within her and says she’s a constant ray of sunshine. Most significantly, Rezen is described as a champion with a huge heart who says “I love you” and “thank you for working hard for me” to every nurse and doctor she encounters.

In the fall of 2022, Rezen started showing consistent bruising on her legs and back. Ristina remembers thinking that her daughter must just be falling down a lot at school. At the recommendation of Rezen’s teacher, however, Ristina brought her daughter to a doctor. That same night, she received some startling news: Rezen needed to be seen at the hospital right away. 

There, she was tested for leukemia and other cancers because her white blood cell count was very low and her platelets were dangerously low. Doctors eventually diagnosed Rezen with aplastic anemia. Through additional testing, her medical team also discovered that there was a deep degradation of her bone marrow and that she had non-A–E hepatitis. A five-month hospital stay began.

Since the diagnosis, Rezen and her family have spent 80-90% of their time at the hospital. Fortunately, during that time, Ristina was able to receive training to provide a number of treatments for Rezen at home. 

The need for a bone marrow match

Because the only treatment for aplastic anemia is a blood stem cell transplant, Rezen’s family has been focused on finding a matching donor. It was Ristina’s hope that Rezen’s brother would be a match. 

“I had put all my eggs into that basket. They were going to match, they were going to transplant, it was going to be over. I was not going to have to worry,” she remembers. Unfortunately, her son was not a match.

Ristina explained that because they live in a very culturally mixed society, in which several ethnicities may combine, this lessens the chance of finding a match. She, for example, is a mixture of five ethnicities. Multiracial patients may have a harder time finding a match because of uncommon human leukocyte antigens (HLA), which are used to match donors and patients. More people of all ethnic backgrounds are needed on the Be The Match Registry® so all patients have a greater chance of finding a match. 

Driven to influence others to join the Be The Match Registry

When she found out her son wasn’t a match, Ristina started to become deeply involved in growing the registry, not only to find a match for her daughter but for everyone waiting for a donor match. “I just started pushing away,” she said, “even carrying test kits in my purse.” She shared that when she makes a connection with someone, she asks if they have ever thought of saving someone’s life. 

Ristina’s college alma mater has held donor recruitment drives. Rezen’s elementary school hosted a recent one as well, which Rezen was able to attend. She was super excited to be there, says Ristina, because she was able to take a break from her house-and-hospital routine and see her friends.  

Support from the community and coping 

When asked about her support system and her community, Ristina shared that “everybody wants to do something to help,” including people from her church, Rezen’s school, friends, family and coworkers.  “There hasn’t been one person that hasn’t done something,” she said. Many have shown kindness by delivering meals to the family. People have given gift cards, written supportive notes and even donated sick leave. 

Daily Bible study and reciting Psalm 23, which Rezen can recite by heart, grounds them. Ristina said it helps her know who they are and where they’re going, and it reassures her to know they’re provided for. 

Moving forward

Today, Rezen is clear of hepatitis but continues to get weekly transfusions of blood and platelets—and is still waiting for her blood stem cell donor match. But “we are on the crest of the wave,” Ristina predicted. “We are about to ride into the healing shores.”

When asked where Ristina sees her daughter years from now, she said, “I feel like she is going to be a people-drawer, whether that is going to be public speaking or taking an office or doing something radical. I pray that she uses her strengths from this as well as the platform that she has gained and the connections that she has now to do something that impacts all of our community and all of our islands. All the world, if possible.”