One year ago, a 13-year-old, eighth-grade student at Smithson Valley Middle School donated his bone marrow to his little sister. This year, she is cancer free, attending school and dancing on the SVMS dance team, thanks to his perfect match.
Hunter Pavlik, now 14 and a freshman at Smithson Valley High School, didn’t think twice about donating bone marrow to his little sister, Sydney, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in May of 2019.
With a 25 percent chance of a sibling match for bone marrow, Sydney was one of the lucky ones diagnosed with AML because of her brother’s perfect match. She began her cancer journey with three rounds of chemotherapy to knock out the cancer followed by a fourth round which was stronger than the others in order to rid her body of her own bone marrow and prepare it for her brother’s.
While the initial chemo rounds wiped out the cancer, with AML there is always a possibility that one cell survived and is hiding in the bone marrow to return one day. The fourth round wiped out Sydney’s bone marrow and the transplant replaced it with good marrow.
The brother and sister went into surgery on Sept. 26, 2019, and while Hunter never spent a night in the hospital, Sydney stayed 32 days, leaving on Oct. 28. Fortunately, her body accepted the transplant without any of the common side effects which often include skin, lung and heart complications. In fact, her most recent one-year follow-up appointment showed her heart to be at 100 percent capacity and her lungs completely clear, much to the doctors’ surprise.
Once she returned home in October, Sydney’s immune system was weak which meant she had to quarantine in order to let her body accept the new marrow. In this process, Sydney’s blood type changed to her brother’s blood type. By February, her immune system kicked back in gear, and she was ready to attend school and tryout for the dance team, but COVID-19 hit and she never had the chance to go back in-person. Instead, she found herself once more at home in quarantine with everyone else.
Sydney spent her sixth-grade year as a homebound student, and she and her mother, Brandy Pavlik, are grateful for her homebound teacher, Julianna Palmer. They also are grateful for the community support they received from teachers, staff, friends and local businesses who stepped up to help in any way that they could.
“I can’t believe how many people were there for us,” Brandy said.
While she is moving on to brighter days, Sydney remembers that month spent in the hospital, and on a recent visit back she and her mom got chills remembering and knowing that many kids remain behind those doors.
“I know that some kids are still fighting the side effects of their transplants,” Brandy said. “Sydney has been the miracle, the one without any side effects.”
While her journey started when she was 10 and she celebrated her 11th birthday in the hospital, this year, she turned 12 at home and is cancer free.
For his part, Hunter continues to look out for his little sister. In fact, he may be the best big brother, ever. The two have always been close, Brandy said, but now they have a unique bond.
“He saved her life.”
-Hunter Pavlik, 14, and his sister, Sydney, 12, have a lot to smile about this year. She is cancer free, thanks to his bone marrow donation which occurred a year ago.
-Sydney Pavlik, 12, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) more than a year ago, but today, she is cancer free and a seventh-grade student at Smithson Valley Middle School.