After the better part of a year battling leukemia and living in a hospital, an 8-year-old Chandler girl is finally going home — thanks in no small part to the support of the East Valley community that’s been rallying around her, and a lifesaving gift from her brother.
Amber Fernandez, a second-grader in teacher Brittney Soenen’s class at Chandler’s Hull Elementary School, underwent a successful bone marrow transplant March 20 at Phoenix Children’s hospital as part of her bout with acute myeloid leukemia.
On Thursday, Amber and her family received word from doctors that there is no sign of any leukemia and that she is expected to be released today, said Amber’s mother, Kelly Fernandez.
Amber’s bone marrow donor was her younger brother, Ben, 4, who was a 100 percent match.
“Wonderful, wonderful news,” her mother said. “Amber is doing well and she’s getting her strength back. Her brother did well through the transplant. The cells are 100 percent Benjamin’s, which shows that the transplant was a success. We couldn’t be happier.”
Through it all, Benjamin believed he was Superman, hoping to save his sister as he sometimes wore a Superman T-shirt to emulate the superhero.
Amber, the daughter of Ben and Kelly Fernandez of Chandler, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in July when she was visiting her grandparents in Virginia. Amber had to be treated at a hospital there before she was flown back to Arizona so she could begin chemotherapy treatments at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
Amber remained hospitalized at Phoenix Children’s for about nine months as doctors worked to get the leukemia in remission through five cycles of chemotherapy so she would be able to undergo the transplant.
Acute myeloid leukemia is a cancer of the myeloid line of blood cells, characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells that accumulate in the bone marrow and interfere with the production of normal blood cells. Symptoms of the disease include fatigue, shortness of breath, easy bruising and bleeding, and increased risk of infection. The disease can progress rapidly and can be fatal within weeks or months if left untreated.
Amber hasn’t been able to go to school this year, but should be able to in the months ahead as her teacher now is helping her crack the books by home schooling her so she can keep up.
In the months ahead, Amber will return to the hospital for frequent check-ups as a follow-up, her mother said.
Throughout Amber’s battle against the disease, her family, friends and community rallied around her as Amber’s classmate Kiana Banks put a plan in motion to help bring in money to help pay for her friend’s bone marrow transplant. The Fernandez family also was presented with a quilt for Amber in December that was designed by second graders at her school.
Kiana, who likes to talk to Amber about teen heart throb Justin Bieber and likes to draw while at each other’s houses, said all she wanted for her birthday in November and for Christmas was for Amber to get well and come home.
Kiana’s efforts garnered national attention as she raised more than $6,000 through fundraisers and benefits.
In October, Amber’s aunt, Natalie Fernandez and uncle, Justin Fernandez, also raised $23,000 during a concert fundraiser in Tucson with their Flamenco music band, Tesoro Flamenco.
When the Tribune contacted the Fernandez family Thursday, Amber was taking a nap, but her mother said that she would like to thank everyone for all the support, well wishes, love and prayers.
“We’re real hopeful and have faith that everything will go well,” Kelly Fernandez said.
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