ST PAUL, Minn. — Craig and Sharon Chambers expected their first grandson, Ari Chambers-Baltz to change their lives.
"We've been very, very busy," Sharon Chambers said. "We've been traveling all over the place."
But they always thought the extra traveling would result in pinching Ari's cheeks in Illinois, not swabbing the cheeks of college students across Minnesota with the help of Be the Match.
"The perfect age for Ari - for his transplant - is a 20-year-old, and students are rising to the occasion," Sharon Chambers said. "It's amazing."
The Chambers' first learned something was wrong with Ari when he was hospitalized with double pneumonia at just four and a half months old.
"It turned out to be due to a cold virus," said Craig Chambers. "In you or I, it would simply cause some nasal symptoms or a sore throat. In him, his lungs no longer function, it hit him so hard."
After several more severe infections and hospital stays, Ari was diagnosed with hyper IgM. He is now living in quarantine and receiving antibiotics and weekly injections to help him buy some time.
"Even with that treatment, Ari and these individuals (with hyper IgM) still manage to get infections, progressive organ damage and not make it much past age 20," Craig Chambers said. "So they need something done to fix the immune system to live a normal adult life."
Finding Ari's Match
The 'fix' Ari and others need, has to come from a stem cell or bone marrow donor, and even though there are already more than 39 million potential donors in the Be the Match Registry, Ari still hasn't found his.
That's why, in the last month, the Chambers have worked with Be The Match, to collect nearly 1,000 cheek swabs from students and other young adults at special events. Their goal is to sign up a total of 5,000 new donors by the end of this month, with hopes that Ari is ready for a critical transplant at the end of May.
"His doctors at the (M Health Fairview) Masonic Children's Hospital want to do a transplant before he undergoes further organ damage," Sharon Chambers said. "These kids, when they transplant them sooner, do better."
In the process, the Chambers' know they are helping countless others who might benefit from a growing pool of potential donors.
"About 14,000 people a year are looking for a donor, a match, and only half find one," Sharon Chambers said. "We have to change that."
When they aren't hosting events, the couple is usually splitting time in Illinois, helping care for Ari (with quarantine periods in between).
"It's just not the journey that we thought we would have," Sharon Chambers said. "This was devastating news to get, and you go through that period of 'Why?' Then once you get past it, you're like, 'How can we help?'"
"We might not save Ari but... we could still save someone. Whatever we can do to save a life, it's worth it."
How to help Ari... and others
The Chambers are hosting several more swabbing events with Be the Match in the coming weeks. Including:
Saturday, April 1st, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., University of Minnesota Recreation & Wellness Center
Wednesday, April 12, 10 a.m. - 3 p,m., Carlton College
Thursday, April 13, 10 a.m. - 3pm, Augsburg College
You can also join the Be the Match registry by ordering a swab kit online. Click here to get started, or text AriMN to 61474.
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