“I’m going to find a cure for sickle-cell anemia.”
That’s what Jonathan Buchanan, 15, used to say to his mom when he was a little boy. He’d pretend to be a doctor, bandaging his stuffed animals.
Jonathan, who lives in Chandler, Arizona, has four older brothers. Two of them, Joshua and Jordan, 16, are identical twins who were born with sickle-cell anemia. Because of the disease, they were almost always in pain.
Both boys often had to stay in the hospital for days or weeks. Many times, the family missed birthdays, holidays, and vacations when they were sick.
For years, Jonathan watched his brothers suffer. He dreamed of someday finding a way to help them.
CURVED BLOOD CELLS
In a healthy person, red blood cells are shaped like disks. But in a person who has sickle-cell anemia, some red blood cells become curved, almost like a letter C.
The curved blood cells don’t carry oxygen as well as normal cells do. That can damage many parts of the body. Also, the cells can get stuck. When they are unable to move through the body, the person feels a lot of pain.
Many people with sickle-cell anemia don’t live past age 35 or 40. There is a way to cure it—but it is difficult. Surgeons can take bone marrow from a healthy person and put it into a person who has the disease. This is called a bone marrow transplant.
When the twins were younger, transplants were not always successful. Some kids who had transplants died. But in recent years, transplant technology has greatly improved. In 2012, Josh and Jordan decided that they wanted to try it. It wouldn’t be easy.
Bone marrow can’t come from just anyone. A person’s blood must be a perfect match for the patient. Even close family members often don’t match.
Doctors tested the twins’ older brothers. Neither of them could donate. Then they tested Jonathan. He was a perfect match!
“I knew it was going to be me,” remembers Jonathan happily. “I dreamed it!”
Recovery from a transplant is long and grueling. So the two transplants would take place a year apart to give the first twin time to heal.
To choose who would go first, Josh and Jordan played a game of rock, paper, scissors. Josh won. Their doctor decided it was best for Josh to go first anyway, since he was in more pain.
In October 2012, doctors wheeled Jonathan into an operating room to remove bone marrow from an area near his hip.
“That first time was scary,” says Jonathan. He was nervous about all the shots and needles required. Afterward, his right leg was sore, but he soon felt better.
Recovery took much longer for Josh. After the transplant, it was more than three months before he was strong enough to go home. His mom stayed with him in the hospital 24 hours a day. At home, Jonathan and his other brothers took care of the housework and cooking so that their mom could care for Josh.
Those long, difficult months were worth it. Josh was cured!
In September 2013, it was Jordan’s turn. This time, Jonathan wasn’t nervous. Once again, the transplant was a success. Jordan is now back home, growing stronger by the day. “I’m happy,” says Jonathan. “I won’t have to see my brothers cry in pain anymore.”
Jonathan told his mom that he would have donated bone marrow a million times to help Jordan and Josh. “I am really proud of him,” she says. “Jonathan is a superhero to us.”
This article originally appeared in the March 24, 2014 issue of Action magazine. To find out more about Action's great resources, click here.