Lincolnshire cops, firefighters team to help girl's leukemia fight

  • Ava Lee, 6, who has a rare form of leukemia, shares a snuggle with her mom Esther.

      Ava Lee, 6, who has a rare form of leukemia, shares a snuggle with her mom Esther. George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • @Caption:Ava Lee, 6, who has a rare form of leukemia, with her mom and dad, Michael and Esther, and 3-year-old sister, Gwenin, at their home in Lincolnshire. Her hometown's police and firefighters are teaming up this weekend for a charity cook-off to help find her a bone marrow donor.

      @Caption:Ava Lee, 6, who has a rare form of leukemia, with her mom and dad, Michael and Esther, and 3-year-old sister, Gwenin, at their home in Lincolnshire. Her hometown's police and firefighters are teaming up this weekend for a charity cook-off to help find her a bone marrow donor. George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Ava Lee, 6, who has a rare form of leukemia and her 3-year-old sister, Gwenin, at their home in Lincolnshire. Her hometown's police and firefighters are teaming up this weekend for a charity cook-off to help find her a bone marrow donor.

      Ava Lee, 6, who has a rare form of leukemia and her 3-year-old sister, Gwenin, at their home in Lincolnshire. Her hometown's police and firefighters are teaming up this weekend for a charity cook-off to help find her a bone marrow donor. George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted9/22/2014 5:30 AM

Lincolnshire's police officers and firefighters will trade their guns and hoses for spatulas and tongs this weekend to help a Lake County girl fighting cancer.

Crews from the Lincolnshire Police Department and the Lincolnshire-Riverwoods Fire Protection District will host a charity cook-off on Sept. 27 at village hall, 1 Olde Half Day Road.

 

The beneficiary is 6-year-old Ava Lee, who was diagnosed with a rare type of leukemia this past February.

Ava, whose family lives near Lincolnshire, needs a bone-marrow transplant so her body can produce healthy blood cells. But doctors haven't yet found a donor whose marrow matches hers.

That's where the cops and firefighters come in.

"Our No. 1 goal is to find a bone marrow donor match for Ava," said Lincolnshire police Officer Brian Balinski, one of the event's organizers. "We've been trying to put on a blood drive together for the last couple of years, and Ava's story has given us the perfect chance to go above and beyond the initial blood drive we hoped (to) plan."

Getting tested to be a marrow donor requires a simple interior cheek swab. But it's an expensive process, and that can scare off potential donors, Balinski said.

So, to raise the money needed for anyone to get tested and register with the National Marrow Donor Program's Be The Match effort at the event, the cooks will sell samples of their culinary creations.

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Representatives from Be The Match will be on hand to conduct the painless swab tests.

"By joining the Be The Match Registry as a potential marrow donor, you may be the only one on a registry of millions with the power to provide a cure for a patient in need of a transplant," said Be The Match's Danielle Vickers.

The odds of finding a bone marrow match vary from person to person, Vickers said.

Patients are most likely to match the tissue type of someone who shares their racial or ethnic heritage.

None of Ava's family members match her, though, so a stranger's marrow is needed.

"By increasing the diversity of the registry, we can help ensure all patients receive the lifesaving transplant they need," Vickers said.

A first-grader at Pritchett Elementary School in Buffalo Grove, Ava's illness was discovered after going to the doctor because of a persistent skin infection, said her mother, Esther Lee.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Ava has been receiving chemotherapy treatments for seven months. Because a bone-marrow match has not yet been found, the next step would be an umbilical-cord blood transplant.

"We still hope to be able to find a bone marrow match but admittedly we are running out of time," Esther Lee said.

Ava has remained brave throughout, her mom said.

"There are no words to adequately express my daughter's spirit," said Esther Lee, who quit her job as a fourth-grade teacher at Half Day School in Lincolnshire in May after Ava's diagnosis.

"I know that every parent feels proud of their child but witnessing what Ava has been through and then s eeing her resolve, her courage, her desire to make others happy, has been awe-inspiring."

The barbecue showdown is scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The menu will consist of ribs, pulled pork and beef brisket, Balinski said.

"Firemen are often known to be good cooks," Balinski said. "The Lincolnshire Police Department has a few officers who are passionate about cooking as well. We thought this would be the perfect opportunity to put our skills to the test."

Fire Chief Fred Krueger is confident his department will prevail.

"We're known as great cooks and they're known as great eaters," Krueger said. "They're really outmatched."

The meat will be provided by Fresh Market, which has a store in Lincolnshire. For anyone seeking to satisfy a sweet tooth, Didier Farms will donate doughnuts.

Additionally, LifeSource will hold a blood drive at the gathering.

"We're hoping to have 40 blood donors from this event," Balinski said. "Hopefully this event will tug on the hearts of those who attend."

Esther Lee said she and her husband, Michael, are "honored and humbled" by the community's support.

"But we are even more thankful that through their efforts, we can add many more people to the bone marrow registry," Lee said. "Even if we can't find Ava's match ... we feel it is so important to continue these efforts in hopes that even one family can find the match they are looking for."

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