Emma Clifton, a 10-year-old from Anna, is in the fight of her life.
Emma suffers from Fanconi Anemia, a rare blood disorder that ultimately leads to bone marrow failure. It is estimated that there are only 1,000 current known cases worldwide, and those who make it through a bone marrow transplant eventually have to deal with different types of cancers.
The Clifton family includes mom Teresa and father Tyler and five children, of which Emma is the oldest. Fanconi Anemia is an inherited genetic disease. Both Teresa and Tyler are carriers but, luckily, none of the other four Clifton children are stricken.
"We’ve been remarkably blessed in that regard," said Tyler.
Fanconi Anemia is a ravenous disease, attacking and destroying the bone marrow’s ability to produce blood cells. Fanconi Anemia patients are also often born with genetic defects, and such was the case with Emma who was born with only one kidney and who underwent open heart surgery when she was five years old. Thus, traditional bone marrow transplant protocols cannot be observed when dealing with a Fanconi Anemia patient. There are very few hospitals across the United States that can even successfully handle this complex procedure within Fanconi Anemia patients.
One such facility is Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, which is why Emma and Teresa have traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio for the bone marrow transplant. The procedure itself is complicated and recovery time is measured in months. Fanconi Anemia patients have to undergo chemotherapy first to destroy what little bone marrow they have left so that the body will accept the donor stem cells. After this is done, patients will have gone from an extremely weak immune system to no immune system at all. Following the transplant, patients are carefully monitored for months to make sure the stem cells are reacting well to the transplant and are not attacking the host body. Emma and Teresa will need to remain in Cincinnati for anywhere from four to six months.
Ultimately, Fanconi Anemia is a fatal disease. The Cliftons, however, have done everything in their power to give Emma as many years as possible. Fanconi Anemia patients already suffer from weak immune systems so germs and exposure are to be feared. Tyler, who works at a hospital in Plano, has been clinical in the family’s approach to maintaining as germ-free an environment as possible, and the Cliftons have managed to successfully keep Emma relatively healthy, all things considered.
"The last couple of years we’ve really tried to contain germs," said Tyler. "Family members are basically asked to quarantine themselves [around Emma.]"
Eventually, however, the disease will take its toll on Emma.
"That’s the hardest part," said an emotional Tyler. "She’s such a remarkable little girl. She made the comment to her mother about the transplant, ‘I don’t want to have this thing, but I know I can do it.’ And her faith, her faith is remarkable."
Faith and family will help the Cliftons deal with the emotional and physical struggles. Financially, however, both can only go so far. Though Emma and Teresa were able to get into the Ronald McDonald House in Cincinnatti, there are plenty of expenses not covered by insurance. To help out, some of the Clifton’s Anna neighbors got together and held a two-day garage sale/bake sale and fundraiser for the Cliftons. All the proceeds from the sales and fundraiser went to the Clifton family.
If you would like to help, donations are also being accepted, and checks can be made out to Tyler Clifton and sent to:
Tyler & Kids
PO Box 1156
Anna, TX 75409
If you would like to send your best wishes to to Emma:
RMH of Cincinnati
Attn: Emma Clifton Room #62
350 Erkenbrecher Ave
Cincinnati, OH 45229
The family also has a PayPal account set up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To follow Emma’s journey, go to facebook.com/ourlittletasteofheaven or follow along at http://ourlittletasteofheaven.blogspot.com.