Indiana Boy with Leukemia Needs Life-Saving Bone Marrow Transplant
Indiana Boy, 10, Is Fighting Leukemia for Second Time, Needs Life-Saving Bone Marrow Transplant
"I try to be an advocate for him. I just don't settle," Juanita Perkins says of her son, Brian, who currently has a 23 percent chance of finding a perfect match.
A 10-year-old boy battling cancer for the second time is in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant that will hopefully give him a second chance at life.
Brian Perkins was diagnosed with leukemia just two weeks before his 10th birthday in November 2019, his mother Juanita Perkins tells PEOPLE.
After a month of "harsh" chemotherapy treatments, Juanita says Brian went into remission. But by June 2020, his cancer had returned — leaving the fifth-grader from Indianapolis with no other option but to undergo a bone marrow transplant.
Unfortunately, finding a perfect match may prove to be a challenge for Brian.
According to Be The Match, white people have a 77 percent chance of finding a perfect match, while Black people only have a 23 percent chance — something Juanita, 39, is refusing to accept.
"When I found the chances of finding a donor, it was like, 'Okay, I need to do something. I'm not gonna just let a number say these are the chances are for my son," she says. "I try to be an advocate for him. I just don't settle."
Brian and Juanita Perkins
When Brian was first diagnosed with leukemia, Juanita said she remembered it as a day that "forever changed" their lives.
"My heart just dropped to the floor and my whole world came apart," she wrote on a GoFundMe page she started to help raise money for Brian's medical expenses and daily necessities. "The tears couldn’t stop flowing. My body was not present. I was so devastated to find out my heart, my all, my everything, my world has cancer."
When the cancer returned months later, Juanita, also mom to a 19-year-old son, found it equally heartbreaking. She tells PEOPLE "it was like reliving the first time all over again."
"Doctors immediately said he needed a donor because it would keep coming back," she recalls of the moment.
As Brian undergoes treatment, Juanita says she has attempted to explain the situation to him "several times" but "he doesn't want to know because it makes him sad and he doesn't want to be sad."
"He just goes about the day like a normal child when he can," she adds. "I feel like I'm taking on all the crying."
While he may be unaware of some details regarding his leukemia, Brian knows that he needs this stem cell transplant and that it can come from anyone, though a person who shares his ethnic background is preferred.
Be The Match states on its website that "Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) markers used in matching are inherited. Some ethnic groups have more complex tissue types than others. So a person’s best chance of finding a donor may be with someone of the same ethnic background."
"We possibly can find another person but the genetics need to fit like a lock and key," adds Juanita, who notes she wasn't registered as a donor but has since joined to improve the chances for other Black patients.
"African Americans [statistically] don't donate. I already knew that; I was one of them," she admits. "It doesn't hurt to be a potential donor. All you have to do is register, swab and send it off, and everything is free. I signed up because I want to be that person to save someone's life."
To help with her cause, Juanita created a Facebook page called Keep Bj Strong, where she provides medical updates, raises awareness about her son's health battle and pleads for people, especially those who are Black, to join the registry.
Ultimately, the mother of two hopes more people will hear Brian's story and either spread the word or be encouraged to join the registry themselves — and potentially save her 10-year-old's life.
"People don't realize until it hits home, they don’t care because it's not them," Juanita says. "It's sad that we have to think that way."
"I want people to step in my shoes and [think] if this was their child, or friend, or even themselves," she adds. "Cancer doesn’t have an age or number, so why not go out and be a donor? Help save somebody's life, go be a miracle to a family."
Those interested in joining the Be The Match registry can do so here, or text BJstrong to 61474.