A mother's only hope to save her son's life

Posted at 11:34 PM, Feb 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-11 15:32:09-05

A teenager in need of a lifesaving bone marrow transplant was searching for a donor match as time ran out. But, it was his mother’s determination and an unexpected surprise that brought the family from Kansas to Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor with a chance to save his life.

“The first time he got sick he was 2 days old and that started the spiral from there,” mom Lisa Gropp said.

For her 16-year-old son Derek, life had consisted of isolation, hospitalization, chemotherapy and different trials all with the hopes of prolonging his life.

“His bone marrow fails to produce the neutrophils it needs to fight infection,” Lisa said.

Derek was born with several medical issues, including Kostmann’s Syndrome, which gives him no way of fighting infection and no future without a bone marrow transplant.

“It’s truly amazing and it’s been truly a credit to Derek, to his family, to his caregivers that for the past 16 years they’ve been able to get him through these episodes,” Dr. Gregory Yanik, M.D. of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan said.

In order to do that, Lisa has given up everything, traveling the country in search of a doctor with a cure or that one stranger who could be a match.

Little did the family know, Derek’s match was on the way, and by no means was he a stranger.

“Brother was by mistake,” Derek and Lisa laughed.

Three years ago an unexpected pregnancy left Lisa and Derek terrified. There was a 50 percent chance the baby would have Kostmann’s as well. There was also a chance the baby could be the match they had been searching for, but time was not on their side and doctors needed to act fast.

“He (the doctor) sent a message and he said 'Lisa we need to test',” she said. “And a couple days later he said 'Lisa, he’s a match.'”

Baby Christopher joined the family, born completely healthy and a 10/10 perfect match for his brother who was getting sicker by the day.

“Recently, he’s had a lot more bleeding from his mouth and bruising, he was bleeding from his ear and (the doctor) said, 'we can’t wait any longer we have to try to make this work,'” Lisa said.

Moving the family to Ann Arbor, the doctors at Mott Children’s Hospital were the only ones willing to take on this case.

“This is the first transplant they have done with this much difference in size,” Lisa said.

The transplant has been a two year process, leading up to the day of the transfusion.

“Literally everything they came here for the past two years is focused on what’s about to happen today with this transplant,” Dr. Yanik said. “We’ve taken out bone marrow from his sibling in addition to cord blood that was collected from his sibling and we’ll be giving that to Derek today.”

It’s a day they deemed “Derek’s Second Birthday.”

“This is going to cure him, it’s going to stop the leukemia from full progression,” Lisa said.

It’s what she and Derek have spent his entire life working for.

“These days have been the hardest that we’ve ever had to endure and today he gets new life and he’s finally going to be well and he’s going to live,” she said. “He’s going to do the things he never could and he’s going to go to college and he’s going to kiss a girl.”

Within a month, doctors say Derek will be making cells he’s never been able to make and fighting infections.  He’ll be out of isolation with a whole new world to explore with Christopher by his side.

“I’m his best friend and he’s mine, he’s happy with it,” Derek laughed.

A mother's determination and a unexpected surprise giving life and new meaning to a family’s love.

“It’s crazy, they say parents will go to the ends of the earth for their kids and everything and well, she’s an example,” Derek said.

“It just shows you, you know, God has his own plan,” Lisa said.

There is a Facebook group, High Fives for Derek, where  you can see his journey to health and a fundraising page to help the Gropp family through this tough financial time.

For more information on becoming a bone marrow donor: