"We prayed that I"d be a match": Robin Roberts" sister Sally-Ann on learning she was the sole bone marrow donor


'We prayed that I'd be a match': Robin Roberts' sister Sally-Ann on learning she was the sole bone marrow donor

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UPDATED:

13:44 GMT, 28 June 2012

Robin Roberts' older sister has spoken out about being her sole bone marrow donor after learning she was a match.

Sally-Ann, who anchors a morning show in New Orleans, will be essential to her GMA host sister's treatments for myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a blood and bone marrow disease.

The mother-of-three, 55, told the New York Post yesterday how
she had been so desperate to be a match for her sister, she and her
friends made a prayer circle around the test kit.

'We prayed, “please let this be a match,”' she admitted.

Perfect match: Sally-Ann Roberts, pictured with Robin earlier this month, has spoken about how she learned she would be her sister's sole bone marrow donor

Perfect match: Sally-Ann Roberts, pictured with Robin earlier this month, has spoken about how she learned she would be her sister's sole bone marrow donor

She admitted: 'I’m the big sister. I’m the one who’s supposed to be suffering because of age. But that’s not the way it is.'

To donate her bone marrow, Sally-Ann explained that she will have five days of injections to boost her blood cell count, before her blood is passed through a machine that will extract the stem cells her sister, 51, so desperately needs.

'The way it is explained to me is that they will first have to knock out her immune system in order for my stem cells to be accepted by her body,' she said.

'I just want this to be over with so my sister can resume her life as usual.'

Sally-Ann also related the tense wait for test results, and the moment, in early May, that Robin told her she was a match.

Though it was only a week or two between the test and the day she learned the results, she admits it 'felt like an eternity'.

And she initially believed the news was bad when Robin called her, because she didn't mention the results immediately.

Ever stylish: Robin, pictured on GMA this morning, has been covering evidence of her chemotherapy with armbands that co-ordinate with her dresses

Ever stylish: Robin, pictured on GMA this morning, has been covering evidence of her chemotherapy with armbands that co-ordinate with her dresses

'I was starting to feel a little anxious because she was starting to
talk about other things,' she told the Post.

'I was driving home and, as soon as I pulled up
into the driveway, she said: “Oh, by the way, we’re a match,” and I let
out a whoop.'

At the time, Sally-Ann reveals, she
did not know that it is relatively rare it is for a bone marrow donor to
be found within one's family – around one-in-three. Odds are closer to
one-in-four for a sibling match.

Robin, 51, who has been wearing coloured bands around her arm during her live on-air segments this week, banned her sister from researching MDS online.

'Robin told me it might be depressing because it looks bad,' Sally-Ann said.

On Monday, Robin's GMA colleagues Lara Spencer, co-host George
Stephanopoulos and her boss, ABC News President Ben Sherwood, were
swabbed live on air to see if their bone marrow was a match for someone who needs a
donation.

After she announced she will soon need a bone marrow
transplant as well as chemotherapy treatments earlier this month, the rate of new donor
registrants more than doubled.

Bone marrow donors: Lara Spencer (left), ABC News President Ben Sherwood (centre), and George Stephanopoulos (right) swabbed themselves at a donor registry drive at ABC News headquarters

Bone marrow donors: Lara Spencer (left), ABC News President Ben Sherwood (centre), and George Stephanopoulos (right) swabbed themselves at a donor registry drive at ABC News headquarters

Jeffrey Chell, CEO of the
registry Be The Match, said some 15,000 people had registered since she
announced her diagnosis on Good Morning America – 11,200 more than they
would usually receive during one month.

Robin, who battled breast cancer
in 2007, triggered
an outpouring of support, and she became a trending topic on Twitter
with more than 13,500 people commenting on an ABC post on Facebook that
day.

WHAT IS MDS

Myelodysplastic syndromes are a group of diseases in which the bone marrow does not make enough healthy blood cells.

Age and past treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy affect the risk of developing the disease.

It affects about 18,000 people each year – but only several hundred of those are as a result of cancer treatment.

Symptoms can include shortness of breath, weakness or feeling tired, skin that is paler than usual, easy bruising or bleeding and fever or frequent infections.

The primary approach to treating MDS is a bone marrow transplant.

The more closely matched the donor and recipient are, the more likely the immune system will not reject the new marrow and treatment will be successful.

The award-winning
broadcaster, who grew up in Mississippi, tried to smile as she spoke
about the disease live on air earlier this month.

She said: 'It is something that is
called MDS… It is a rare blood disorder that affects the bone marrow,'
she said. 'I'm going to beat this. My doctors say it and my faith says
it.'

MDS, or myelodysplastic syndrome, is a
blood and bone marrow disease once known as preleukemia because of the
progression that can be seen from MDS to leukemia.

Actor Rob Lowe was one of the first
people to show his support for the journalist. 'My best thoughts to
Robin Roberts at #GMA. She's a great lady and a fighter,' he Tweeted.

About 18,000 people develop MDS each year and it can affect all blood cells, leading to problems such as anaemia, infections and bruising.

The veteran anchor said she was given the upsetting diagnosis on the same day she found out she would be interviewing President Obama.

While some of her bone marrow was extracted for testing, she was told that she would be meeting the President the next day, which is where Obama revealed his support for gay marriage.

'The combination of landing the biggest interview of my career and having a drill in my back reminds me that God only gives us what we can handle and that it helps to have a good sense of humor when we run smack into the absurdity of life,' she said in a blog post.