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Living with Leukemia: Local girl in need of bone marrow transplant

McKhia Hasty models the new wig she received this week before leaving the hospital. She has to return to Sanford Castle on Monday. (Special to The Globe)1 / 4
McKhia is shown here on Christmas Day with her brother, Isaac, and mom, Samantha Casper. (Special to The Globe)2 / 4
This photo of McKhia was taken while she was in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the Sanford Castle. (Special to The Globe)3 / 4
McKhia is shown with her older brother, Isaac. (Special to The Globe)4 / 4

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Ten-year-old McKhia Hasty was all smiles and giggles Tuesday when she learned she could have a brief respite from her room at the Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D. She was so excited, she even had a can of silly string to shoot off as she walked out of the hospital’s front entrance.

McKhia has been hospitalized at the castle since Nov. 27, the day she was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), a rare cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

The daughter of Samantha Casper of Round Lake, McKhia learned of her nearly week-long hospital break the day after earning her first day pass. On Monday, she and her family went to a movie (she chose “Pitch Perfect 3”) and then to her favorite restaurant, Pizza Ranch, for cheese pizza.

The day of celebration was in stark contrast to images of a sleeping McKhia hooked up to an array of tubes on Christmas Day in the hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).

A former student at Brewster and Lakefield elementary schools, McKhia has lived with her great-aunt, Sara Caven, in Sioux Falls since last August, and is enrolled as a fifth-grader at Hawthorne Elementary. She will return to Sanford Children’s on Monday to begin her next round of chemotherapy treatment.

McKhia seemed to be a happy, healthy little girl until late November.

“She started out with a cold the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and she had a low-grade fever for a couple of days,” detailed Caven.

McKhia felt better the day after Thanksgiving, but by Saturday, her temperature rose to 102 degrees and continued to climb.

Caven took her great-niece to a Sanford clinic Monday morning, Nov. 27, and the first test administered was for strep. When it came back negative, the doctor ordered blood work.

Caven said she grew concerned when the results led to a round of questions from the nurse and doctor.

“Her blood count was low, hemoglobin was low,” Caven said. “The best case scenario was anemia; worst case was leukemia.”

The doctor told Caven he’d seen numbers like McKhia’s before, and urged her to prepare herself.

On Tuesday, a bone marrow biopsy confirmed AML, the rarer form of leukemia.

“AML ruins your immune system and she couldn’t go home,” Caven said. “We needed the immune system to boost up.”

McKhia was fitted with a broviac tube (she calls it Peaches 2 because her nickname is Peaches). The catheter delivered the first round of chemotherapy medications directly to her heart for a span of 10 days.

Caven said McKhia’s spunky attitude helped her get through it.

“I’d say 80 to 90 percent of those days she was pretty good,” she added.

The family is now bracing for the next round, which is actually Round 4 in AML treatment, set to begin Monday.

“We’re going to jump to Round 4 … which will be a more powerful treatment,” Casper said. Again, it will be a 10-day chemo treatment followed by recovery time — a waiting period as McKhia’s immune system strengthens to fight off infection.

A second bone marrow biopsy will then be performed, followed by another round of chemotherapy.

The plan would then be to take McKhia to the University of Minnesota for a bone marrow transplant, provided a match has been found.

Due to a mutated gene, the 5Q deletion, McKhia faces the likely return of cancer without a bone marrow transplant, Casper shared. The transplant would be performed after one last round of chemotherapy to kill off all of McKhia’s existing bone marrow.

Both Casper and Caven have been ruled out as possible bone marrow donors. They are hopeful a donor can be found soon.

Casper’s friend, Traci Remme, is coordinating two local donor registry drives. The first will be Feb. 2 at MariePix Photography, 303 10th St., Brewster, with the second on Feb. 3 at Serenity Gifts, 1132 Oxford St., Worthington. People may also visit http://Join.BeTheMatch.org/TeamMcKhia online for registry information.

As they await an end to McKhia’s chemotherapy treatments and a bone marrow transplant, medical bills are mounting for the family. People who would like to help McKhia are encouraged to make a donation to the Sioux Empire Federal Credit Union, Attn: Sara Caven, Courtesy of McKhia Hasty Benefit, P.O. Box 90240, Sioux Falls, S.D. 57109-0240.

Team McKhia apparel and decals are also being sold by Serenity Gifts in Worthington as a fundraiser.

McKhia, who decided to have her sandy blonde locks shaved off Dec. 13, after chunks of her hair began to fall out from the chemo treatments, is now sporting a wig of jet black hair to match her mother’s hair color. Still smiling, she’s been filling her days coloring, playing board games and watching TV. She has a teacher visit every day in the hospital to help her keep up with her studies, and physical and occupational therapy are also a part of her routine.

Casper calls McKhia her inspiration.

“We are grateful and thankful to everyone who has given monetary donations and sent gifts, cards, well wishes; for Facebook posts, text messages, phone calls and visits,” she said. “McKhia has been enjoying all of her new stuffed animals, art supplies, games and opening her cards and letters from so many thoughtful people. We are in a stressful situation, and having everyone’s support makes it easier.”

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at farmbleat.areavoices.com.

(507) 376-7330
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