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News | April 29, 2022

A real-life super hero

By Senior Airman Kelsea J. Caballero 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Hailey Grace Heiden is a very special nine-year old kid. She’s a real-life superhero, and like all superheroes, she’s spunky, inspiring and brave. She’s fought more battles than anyone can count while raising the hopes of everyone she meets. Hailey Heiden is a Leukemia survivor.

In December 2019, Hailey and her family went on a Christmas road trip when they realized she wasn’t feeling well. At first, they thought it was a common cold, but after weeks of feeling ill, doctors became concerned.

“Her blood counts were off and they were concerned it was Leukemia,” said her step-mother, U.S. Air Force Captain Lindsey Heiden, 633d Healthcare Operations Squadron emergency clinical nurse. “Test after test, this once healthy seven-year-old child was deteriorating quickly. They discovered her bone marrow was not creating blood cells which was caused by a rare genetic disorder called Telomere Biology Disorders which affects the chromosomes and the DNA.”

Due to the rarity of this condition, treatment availability was scarce. Her only viable option was to receive a bone marrow transplant. Her whole family registered in the hopes to help Hailey, but unfortunately no one was a match for her. A compatible donor was identified through the Be The Match program that connects compatible donors and recipients based on genetic factors. They identified a young adult male in Germany whose contribution provided a lasting impact on Hailey and her family’s lives.

“She went through computerized tomography scans, echocardiograms, labs, bone marrow biopsies, glomerular filtration rate testing, COVID-19 testing, nine days of chemotherapy and multiple consultations to ensure her body was ready for transplant by July 20, 2020,” said Heiden. “It’s a lot for anyone to go through, and at the time she was only seven.”

Although Hailey’s battles were strong, she remained stronger.

Hailey was required to stay in the hospital for six weeks during her transplant with her father, U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Eric Heiden, Naval Special Warfare Group Two, and her mother, Lisa Heiden-Gunderson, a school teacher in Blaine, Minnesota. It was July of 2020 and the Langley Emergency Department was in the midst of COVID-19 operations. Heiden was unable to be with the family in Minnesota during treatment due to Hailey’s weakened immune system and the risk of exposure to illnesses that could be life-threatening to her condition.

“Her whole world changed in a matter of days and it was incredibly hard to watch her go through this and not be able to take away the fear, the pain, the isolation,” said Heiden. “Anyone who knows Hailey knows she has a strong spirit, so being trapped to her “stupid head” machine, as she affectionately renamed, was very hard.”

Movies, games, home-made slime, and silly accents helped everyone take each day at a time, and like all good superheroes, Hailey defied the odds.
“Without the donation, our family would have been changed forever. Hailey needed multiple blood transfusions and if the marrow donation didn’t replace her own successfully, her body would have completely shut down,” said Heiden.

Thanks to Hailey’s will to fight, her donor, healthcare team, and supportive family and friends, her health stabilized and she received a second chance at life. Hailey has been able to go back to school, participate in dance, and to be her spunky, sassy kid-self again.

You can be a superhero too by donating bone marrow to help save a life like Hailey’s.

Salute to Life is a Department of Defense program that helps military members and dependents match people in need worldwide. For more information on how to donate visit www.salutetolife.org.

JBLE will be hosting a Salute to Life Drive May 2-6, 2022.

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