Jenna Gibson

Jenna was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at age 9. She received a cord blood transplant after realizing chemotherapy alone would not be enough.

Jenna and her mother
Jenna with her mother Julie

Acute Myeloid Leukemia Survivor

  • Diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at age 9.  
  • Received a cord blood transplant after realizing chemotherapy alone would not be enough.

She can “freeze” on her head while hip-hop dancing and can make it look effortless. Jenna Gibson, 13, has always loved to dance. But a few years ago dancing was the last thing on her mind.

Jenna was a healthy kid.  When she caught what her parents thought was a common cold or virus in February 2012, but didn’t get better after prescribed antibiotics, they took her straight to her pediatrician.

“The pediatrician took one look at me, and they knew something was wrong,” Jenna says.

Immediately after receiving the lab results, Jenna was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Treatment began right away. Jenna stayed in-patient at Seattle Children’s from March to July. She was only able to go home for a little bit in between rounds of chemotherapy.

Needing a transplant

For Jenna, chemotherapy wasn’t enough. She would need a transplant. Because Jenna was adopted from Guatemala, there wasn’t an option for a biological match with a sibling or parent. And because of her ethnicity, there would be less chance of a perfect donor match. She therefore needed a cord blood transplant. Cord blood is the blood that is left over after a baby is born.

Fortunately it didn’t take long to find a donor match for Jenna and it was a six out of six match, which is the highest for cord blood. This meant that Jenna and her donor shared all six of the genetic markers used to match donors with patients.

“I know people wait months for a match so we were very grateful,” Jenna’s mother, Julie says.

Jenna received her cord blood transplant under the care of Colleen Delaney, MD. Jenna fully engrafted on the same day as when she came to the U.S. from the small town of Chiquimula at 13 months. It was July 4.

Life after treatment

Transplant patients are required to live within 30 minutes of the hospital during their recovery period and because her family lives in Maple Valley, about a 60-minute drive away, Jenna continued to spend more time away from home and school. From July to October after the transplant, Jenna and her family stayed at the Ronald McDonald House, near Seattle Children’s.

Jenna experienced side effects from treatment, including losing hair, nausea and weight loss, from chemotherapy. In total she received three rounds of chemo plus full-body radiation. From the transplant, she developed sores in her mouth and experienced fatigue. She also has necrosis in her knee and experienced some graft-versus-host disease from the transplant.

“She’s come through all of that!” Julie says. “And her knee won’t be 100 percent, but it’s close.”

After the transplant, Jenna regularly saw pediatric oncologist Paul Carpenter, MD. The last time she had a check-up appointment with Dr. Carpenter was at her two-year mark and because she is doing so well the next one will be at five years. With all the treatment, Jenna has also stopped growing, and sees an endocrinologist.

“We gotta kick start that growth through medications,” Julie says.

Now in the seventh grade, Jenna is doing well.  After her experience with leukemia, she wants to help others like her team at SCCA and Seattle Children’s did for her. She wants to be a nurse—and will still be dancing.