MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Before celebrating the BCS National Championship Monday night, Florida State’s head coach was celebrating a different victory. This battle had a much tougher opponent.
Jimbo Fisher’s son, Ethan, was just 5 years old when doctors diagnosed with Fanconi anemia. It’s a very rare inherited blood disease that can cause a lot of problems, the biggest of which is bone marrow failure.
The Fisher’s game plan to fight the devastating diagnosis led them to the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. The hospital transplants more patients with Fanconi anemia than any other of the centers in the United States combined.
Ethan will eventually need a bone marrow transplant. When it completely fails, his body won’t make enough blood cells to survive.
The intense procedure includes chemotherapy and radiation before the transplant. Patients remain in the hospital for four to six weeks, then another few months for clinical observation.
The treatment isn’t a fail proof cure, but it will buy him time.
Dr. Margaret MacMillan heads the team of 50 researchers at the hospital.
“We’ve been able to make successes in the past. Only 12 to 15 years ago, it was only 25 percent of children would survive a transplant. Now it’s 85 percent,” MacMillan said.
That success rate is expected to improve in just three to five years. Dr. MacMillan says they’re going to wait to give Ethan a transplant for when he needs it. That’ll allow research efforts to continue and improve his chances for success.
She said immediately upon getting Ethan’s diagnosis, the Fisher family was thinking of helping others, too. They asked how to not only help Ethan, but other kids who were sick too. Research dollars were the best way. They created Kidz1stFund to raise awareness and money for research.
MacMillan explains kids with Fanconi anemia don’t have time to wait — time is not on their side.
“The donations allow us to do what we’re doing faster. It allows it to have more research focused on projects and to get their results faster, so that what we do makes a faster difference for these children,” MacMillan said.
What’s remarkable about MacMillan’s research is it doesn’t just impact Fanconi anemia, it helps all children and adult transplant patients and can also translate into different areas of medicine, including cancer treatment.
Last week, the Fishers presented the hospital with $800,000. Since the Kidz1stFund was created 2.5 years ago, the foundation has donated $1.8 million.
“I respect what [Coach Fisher] does so much and what his team does. And I know they respect our team, too,” MacMillan said.
You’ll find more information on Coach Fisher’s Kidz1stFund on its website.