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Rochester assistant principal needs life-saving transplant

Shawn Walker Shawn Walker

Deanna Dewberry
Updated: April 08, 2020 07:59 PM
Created: April 02, 2020 07:53 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — As the world focuses on this global health pandemic, one Rochesterian is facing a major health crisis of her own.

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Shawn Walker has leukemia, and doctors say only one thing can save her life. She sat down with News10NBC’S Deanna Dewberry.

"I wear my heart on my sleeve for my children,” Walker said smiling. “I call them my children because they are my children." 

Walker has two beautiful biological children. But in this case, she was referring to the thousands of little lives she's touched during her 34 years of service in the Rochester City School District.

"I live in the heart of the city," she said. "I grew up in the heart of the city right around the corner from where they live."

That's why she so deeply connects with her babies, as she calls them. She was one of eight children raised in a three-bedroom home on Rochester’s Melville Street. She knew that education was her calling.

"I worked my way up from a para-professional to an assistant principal," she said smiling.

Her last position before she had to take medical leave was as an assistant principal at the Children’s School of Rochester. 

"She can brighten up any venue just by entering the room," Jay Piper, principal of Children’s School of Rochester said. 

He remembers well that day four years ago when his friend and colleague told him she had been diagnosed with leukemia.

"We were heartbroken, but we wanted to do whatever we could to embrace her and do whatever we could to support her during this struggle," Piper said.

And her colleagues have offered tremendous support.  

They organized meal drops, hosted t-shirt sales and started a GoFundMe campaign, but no amount of support could have prepared

Walker for her appointment with her doctor two weeks ago. He said none of the medications they had tried were working.

"And I said, ‘What does this mean? Am I going to die? Just be honest with me Dr. Zent. Is this bad?’ And he just said, ‘It's bad,’" Walker said.

She is in bone marrow failure. Her bone marrow can no longer produce enough oxygen-rich red blood cells to keep her alive. She's completely reliant on blood transfusions.

"I can't even walk from my bedroom to downstairs without feeling like I'm drowning, and I can't breathe," she said, explaining what bone marrow failure feels like.

The only thing that will save her life is a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. That means she has to find a living donor who is a match. This is far more complicated than having a matching blood type.  

The DNA markers on a donor’s cells must match Walker's. And most patients are more likely to find a match within their own race or ethnic group.

I pointed out the painful irony that she looks like the picture of health.

"I have this makeup on, and I look like I'm fine. But I'm fighting for my life! I need a donor to save my life," she said emphatically.

It's entirely possible that someone reading this story is a match for Walker. Joining the registry is so easy. Order a kit on the website called Be the Match.  

Because transplants are more successful when the donor is younger, the organization prefers donors who are 18 to 44 years old.

A second registry called DKMS accepts donors who are 18 to 55 years old.

Both are worldwide registries.

You'll receive a kit, just swab your cheek and send it in. Donating stem cells is much like giving plasma. Your donation could save a life.

Watch the video below for a demonstration of how to use the kit.


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