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Pennsylvania mom seeks ‘perfect match’ bone marrow donor to cure daughter’s rare disorder

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A 10-year-old girl in Pennsylvania is in dire need of a bone marrow transplant — and her mother is on a mission to find the perfect match.

Lani Walter suffers from a disease called DOCK8 deficiency (dedicator of cytokinesis 8 deficiency), an immunodeficiency syndrome that can cause recurrent, life-threatening infections. 

DOCK8 is very rare, with only 250 people worldwide currently diagnosed, statistics show. The only cure for DOCK8 is a bone marrow transplant — also known as a hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT).

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Ashleigh Walter, a kindergarten teacher, is pleading for people to join the bone marrow/blood stem cell registry to help her daughter find a donor by summer.

“Time is of the essence,” she told Fox News Digital.

Search for answers

Walter’s daughter was diagnosed with DOCK8 when she was 7½ years old, the culmination of a long series of symptoms and illnesses.

Lani Walter, 10, is in dire need of a bone marrow transplant — and her mother is on a desperate mission to find the perfect match. (Ashleigh Walter)

“Lani’s health issues started at just a couple of months old,” Walter told Fox News Digital during an interview. “As a baby, she had full-body eczema from head to toe and continuous ear infections.”

At 11 months old, she was diagnosed with severe allergies to eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts and many other foods. She’s also experienced continuous skin infections and staph infections.

In Jan. 2021, the family was invited to a clinic at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), where Walter’s daughter was able to see specialists from immunology, allergy and dermatology together in one appointment.

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“They all came together to try and figure out what might be going on,” Walter said. “Each of the specialties ran their own special bloodwork to see what was going on with Lani.”

The results showed some abnormalities in the immune system, and doctors recommended doing genetic testing.

Lani Walter

Lani Walter, pictured, has suffered from health issues since birth. She was diagnosed with a DOCK8 deficiency when she was 7 years old. The only known cure is a bone marrow transplant.  (Ashleigh Walter)

A few months later, the family received the news that Walter’s daughter has two variants of the DOCK8 gene.

“If you have issues on both sides of the gene, that’s when you present with the disorder,” Walter said. “Testing showed that both my husband and I are recessive carriers to the DOCK8 variant, which we passed down to Lani.”

She added, “So that was when we found out that all of the health issues Lani has experienced throughout her entire life were not unrelated.”

“All of the health issues Lani has experienced throughout her entire life were not unrelated.”

Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical contributor, was not involved in Lani Walter’s care but commented on the condition.

“DOCK 8 is a rare immune condition where the bone marrow doesn’t make enough immune cells and the immune cells that are made have trouble penetrating into dense tissue, like skin,” he told Fox News Digital.

After the diagnosis, Walter’s daughter was invited to visit the National Institute of Health in Maryland, where researchers are studying DOCK8 deficiency. 

Walter family

Lani Walter, left, is pictured with her mother, older sister and father. If she does not find a 100% perfect bone marrow match, her mom, Ashleigh Walter, who is a 50% match, will donate. (Ashleigh Walter)

“We go there about every six months to see how Lani is doing, and what they recommend as she gets older,” Walter said.

The symptoms of DOCK8 deficiency tend to get more severe as the child grows into late adolescence and early adulthood, doctors have said.

Some of the biggest concerns are respiratory difficulties and a higher risk of various cancers, along with the ongoing risk of infections.

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To help manage her condition, Walter’s daughter has been getting weekly intravenous immune globulin (IVIG) infusions, which add human antibodies to help fight off infections.

She also takes daily antibiotics to help prevent pneumonia, uses an inhaler to help her respiratory system and takes other medications to treat different illnesses she experiences as a result of her DOCK8 deficiency.

Lani Walter

Lani Walter’s hobbies include swimming, crafting, bike-riding, and spending time with her friends and pets. (Ashleigh Walter)

“That’s probably one of the least favorite parts of her day, when I tell her that she needs to take her medicine,” Walter said.

Since the only cure for her condition is a bone marrow transplant, “her doctors recommend that Lani has [the] transplant to help cure the DOCK8 before she gets older.”

What to know about bone marrow transplants

Dr. Brett Osborn, a Florida neurologist and longevity expert at Senolytix, described HSCT as a “transformative reset button” for patients suffering from DOCK8 deficiency.

Osborn is not involved in Lani Walter’s care.

“Imagine your immune system as a computer plagued by a virus,” he told Fox News Digital.

“HSCT can mean a dramatic shift toward immunologic normalcy, providing a new lease on life.”

“HSCT removes the compromised ‘software’ and installs new, functional cells. For individuals with DOCK8 deficiency — who typically face frequent infections, severe allergies and increased cancer risk — HSCT can mean a dramatic shift toward immunologic normalcy, providing a new lease on life.”

Siegel also emphasized the procedure’s importance, calling it a “crucial life-saving procedure.”

Dr. Marc Siegel and Dr. Brett Osborn

Dr. Marc Siegel, left, and Dr. Brett Osborn, right, both weighed in on the importance of a diverse bone marrow registry. (Dr. Marc Siegel/Dr. Brett Osborn)

The average wait for a transplant is about three months, according to Siegel.

“They are very expensive — about $190,000,” he said. “Insurance generally covers the procedure, but not the cost of finding a donor.”

There is around a 25% chance that a sibling will be a match. In Lani Walter’s case, her 14-year-old sister was not a match.

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“The overall chance of finding a match in the world is 1/3 to 2/3,” Siegel said.

The National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) maintains a registry of people who are willing to donate. The Walter family found a 90% match on the registry, but the optimal situation would be to find a 100% match.

“There’s much less risk with the bone marrow transplant if you can find that perfect match,” Walter told Fox News Digital. 

‘Time is of the essence’

Lani Walter’s doctors recommend that she receives the donation before she starts middle school. Next year, she will start fifth grade.

“Ideally, we would do it before Lani sees significant issues with other organs in her body,” said Ashleigh Walter. 

“Joining the bone marrow registry could be your most profound gift.”

If the family does not find a perfect match, Walter said she will donate to her daughter, as parents are always half-matches.

“Obviously, we would still love for her to be able to find a full match on the donor registry, which is much less of a risk,” she said. “But if that’s not possible, we can move forward with a half match.”

Lani Walter

Lani Walter’s doctors are recommending she receive the bone marrow donation before she starts middle school. Next year, she will start fifth grade. (Ashleigh Walter)

With partial matches, there is a higher risk of “graft versus host disease,” which is a complication that occurs when donor bone marrow or stem cells attack the recipient.

“It can cause different issues throughout the body, similar to an organ transplant rejection,” Walter said.

If her daughter receives a successful bone marrow transplant, Walter said — she will be cured of DOCK8.

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“She won’t have an immune deficiency anymore,” she said. “She’ll adopt the immune system of the donor, and we won’t have to worry about any of those increased risks at all.”

Walter is hopeful that her daughter — whom she describes as “a little kid at heart” — will soon be healthy and able to return to the activities she loves, including swimming.

Lani Walter

If her daughter receives a successful bone marrow transplant, Ashleigh Walter said, she will be cured of DOCK8. Walter is hopeful that her daughter will soon be healthy and able to return to the activities she loves (Ashleigh Walter)

“Lani has been on a swim team since kindergarten, and this will be her first summer not doing it,” Walter said. 

She also enjoys bike-riding, crafting, and spending time with her friends and pets.

A call to register

There are millions of potential donors on the bone marrow registry — with more than 300,000 Americans joining just last year — but Walter noted that the likelihood of someone finding a perfect match is very low. 

“The more people who join the registry, the more likely that a perfect match will be there for you,” she said.

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As a neurosurgical trauma surgeon, Osborn of Florida said he can attest to the dire need for blood and bone marrow donors.

“There is a critical shortage of both,” he said. “In emergency and surgical settings, the availability of blood products can be the difference between life and death.”

Cheek swab

People can join the bone marrow registry by visiting the NMDP’s website to order a test kit. “It’s a really simple cheek swab kit that they’ll send to your house and then you send it back,” Walter said. (iStock)

It’s “vital” to have diversity in the bone marrow registry, Osborn noted.

“A closely matched donor reduces complications and improves outcomes,” he said.

“This emphasizes why everyone should consider joining the registry. We can all manufacture these potentially life-saving blood products, and by donating, we fulfill a crucial societal need.”

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While some have the misconception that donation is difficult, Osborn said that’s not the case.

“Donating bone marrow is a low-risk, outpatient procedure associated with only minor discomfort. It’s a great way to pay it forward.”

“In emergency and surgical settings, the availability of blood products can be the difference between life and death.”

People can join the bone marrow registry by visiting the NMDP’s website to order a test kit.

“It’s a really simple cheek swab kit that they’ll send to your house and then you send it back,” Walter said. “You don’t have to pay any money for anything.”

“The more people that join, the more people who can find their perfect match.”

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“For conditions like DOCK8 deficiency, a bone marrow transplant can offer a chance at a healthier life,” Osborn added.

“Joining the bone marrow registry could be your most profound gift, potentially saving a life with your healthy cells.”

For more Health articles, visit www.foxnews.com/health.



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