Harford County residents have an opportunity this weekend to find out if their bone marrow is a match to help an Abingdon woman undergoing treatment for cancer — and even if they are not a match, they will still become part of a nationwide database that can be used to help someone else battling blood or bone cancer.
“As people have different blood cancers, bone cancers, you’re part of that registry now,” said Maria Dontas, director of corporate social responsibility for Abingdon-based Kiddie Academy.
Kiddie Academy, a national daycare provider that also supports multiple philanthropic and community initiatives, is working with There Goes My Hero to host a bone marrow registration drive scheduled for Saturday at Kiddie Academy of Abingdon in honor of Kristy Cooper.
Cooper, 41, is a counselor at Southampton Middle School in Bel Air. The wife and mother of three was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in October.
“If you register in support of Kristy Cooper and you’re not a match, you still have a chance to match with somebody else in the United States and be a hero and save a life,” Dontas said.
Cooper has been undergoing chemotherapy and came home Tuesday after 37 days in the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. She said she typically gets her treatment at home but had to go to the hospital after developing complications from treatment.
She said she will “most likely” need a bone marrow transplant.
“I think the biggest impact is how quick it all happened, how life changed so quickly,” Cooper said. “I was completely fine, and I went to bed and woke up with pain, and that’s what started the whole thing.”
Cooper said she is working to find a purpose in her cancer diagnosis, noting that “the one thing I see in front of me is, I can help Erik and There Goes My Hero.”
Cooper is referring to Erik Sauer, a leukemia survivor, bone marrow transplant recipient and founder of There Goes My Hero. The organization has a partnership with DKMS — an international nonprofit bone marrow donor center — to get people signed up with the National Bone Marrow Registry, according to the There Goes My Hero website.
Sauer, his wife Lisa and their family also have been friends of Cooper and her family for about 10 years. She and Lisa Sauer, a former Southampton school counselor and current pupil personnel worker with Harford County Public Schools, worked together at the middle school for eight years.
“I’ve known him for a long time,” Cooper said of Erik Sauer. “He’s definitely been my inspiration through this ... he’s the first person I called when I got the diagnosis.”
Cooper has been with HCPS for 14 years, spending the past 10 years as a counselor at Southampton. Her husband, Joe, owns a local plumbing business. Their two youngest children attend Patterson Mill High School, and their oldest son is married with a child on the way.
She is currently on medical leave from the school system, which is in effect through January.
Cooper had been working with students at Southampton, both in person with those in the Learning Support Center at the school and virtually, before she was diagnosed. Schools are closed for in-person learning and all students are taking virtual classes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I can’t wait to get back to work and see my students,” Cooper said.
Those who participate in the bone marrow registration drive Saturday could help not only Cooper but “everybody that’s on the registry that’s looking for a transplant,” she said.
She noted many people in the community have stepped up to help her and her family since she was diagnosed with cancer, but she stressed that there is even more that people can do to help, such as taking part in the drive, which is “as simple as being swabbed.”
The registration drive is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Kiddie Academy of Abingdon, 3495 Box Hill Corporate Center Drive.
People have been registering in advance, but they also can show up on Saturday. Participants should look for signs and volunteers to direct them to the appropriate location when they arrive.
Registration will be a “virtually contactless” process, according to Dontas, who said participants will receive a kit that includes eligibility forms to fill out and supplies to complete a cheek swab while in their vehicles. They then hand the completed materials back to a volunteer.
“It’s about a 5-minute process that can all be done in your car,” Dontas said.
Anybody who has questions can contact Stephanie Cupp, of There Goes My Hero, at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the organization’s website.
While public schools around the country have been closed during the pandemic, Kiddie Academy’s childcare centers — which offer day care and before and after-school care, as well as summer camps, to children ranging in age from 6 weeks to 12 years old — have been open, and the company has continued its community projects.
“At this time, all of our academies are open and serving our communities,” said Dontas, who stressed that health protocols such as “contactless drop-off” by parents are in place.
Kiddie Academy centers around the country, which are operated by franchisees, have conducted a number of community service projects during the pandemic to support front-line workers and families in need.
In Harford County, Kiddie Academy has worked to support the Harford Community Action Agency’s food pantry, and the company will support Toys for Tots during the holidays, Dontas said.
“We’re always looking for opportunities to support our community,” Dontas said. “Giving back is at the core of the Kiddie Academy brand.”
The bone marrow registration drive developed out of an effort to get Kiddie Academy employees and the Harford County community engaged around the holiday season.
The drive was initially a routine event, but it became much larger after Dontas learned about Cooper’s situation. Many people have contacted the company to say they are glad they are helping Cooper, who Dontas said is “just a huge part of this community.”
“Being able to partner with There Goes My Hero to support her just resonates on so many levels with what we do every day, supporting families, supporting children,” Dontas said.
Kiddie Academy does not have any prior affiliation with Cooper or There Goes My Hero, according to Dontas.
“It just speaks to all of our values and everything that we teach in our classrooms — kindness, empathy, generosity,” she said of the partnership.