Brother’s gift of bone marrow helps Durham boy get back on his feet

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) — A Durham 7-year-old is on the road to becoming free of his sickle cell disease and getting back on the tennis courts all thanks to a bone-marrow transplant from his older brother.

After 44 days, Noah Royster is walking out of the hospital ready to get back to being a kid.

“I wanted Noah to be cured of his sickle cell,” said his older brother, Blake.

Blake, 10, and Noah are best friends, but because of Noah’s sickle cell disease, there were a lot of things he couldn’t do.

“Blake likes to ski and when we’ve gone on ski trips before, we had to leave Noah at home,” said Noah’s mother, Anitra Royster. “One of the things about sickle cell disease is that altitude and very cold weather can trigger pain crisis and other illnesses within his body, and so we would go solo. When asked once by doctors why (Blake) felt he wanted to do this, he said, ‘so Noah can go skiing with us.'”

While Noah had to stay home during the ski trips, he did find some therapy through tennis. It started with a camp in 2018.

“Sickle cell disease actually relates to red blood cells and taking oxygen to part of the body,” Anitra Royster said. “As an athlete playing any sport, a lot of oxygen is needed to various parts of the body, so he hasn’t been able to play sports in a way that maybe a typical 7-year-old would be able to play.”

And when it comes to playing sports, Noah has what’s sometimes described as a high motor.

“Noah is the type of kid who never saves anything for the run home,” said his father, Dorell Royster. “With sickle cell disease, that’s always been hard because he would give out of energy and he wouldn’t.”

Ultimately, a bone-marrow transplant is the only cure for young children. That’s where big brother Blake came in — there was a 1-in-4 chance he would be a match – and he was.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” Anitra Royster said. “We refer to Blake as a superhero and definitely in his little brother’s eyes, he is. It was a really touching thing that Blake would agree to serve as a donor.”

The sibling love pulled at their father’s heartstrings.

“It brings a tear to my eye,” Dorell Royster said. “It’s a beautiful thing to see. They are each other’s best friends, and they really, the past month and a half has been really hard on them just from the perspective of being apart.”

For Blake, donating bone marrow involved outpatient surgery. Noah’s process was a bit more extensive – including three different chemos, platelets and blood transfusions, but it was tennis that got him back on his feet.

“it’s important that he get up and move around for his lungs and other parts of his body to recover and for him to be mobile,” Anitra Royster said. “He was hitting balls off the walls and we were tossing balls to him … he was enthusiastic about it, and it really lifted his spirits”

Dorell Royster added: “He is one of the most tenacious people I’ve ever met. He hates to lose, so we’ll see how that plays out as far as his sports participation going forward.”

To learn more about bone-marrow donation visit Be The Match.

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