It’s safe to say Julia Jenkins is in the running for Sister of the Year. When Julia’s three younger brothers John, Matthew, and Will were diagnosed with the rare genetic defect X-linked lymphoproliferative syndrome (XLP), also known as Duncan’s syndrome, the 13-year-old girl knew she had to do everything in her power to help out. Thanks to two separate bone marrow donations from their big sister, who was also able to overcome her fear of needles, these three brothers are back to rough and tumble.
"I remember getting my blood tested, like sticking a needle in my arm, but I said 'yes' because they're my brothers," Julia told MyFoxAtlanta. "It was like all these big needles, and now I'm not that scared of needles. Like going to get shots, some people are like terrified of them, but I'm not, like, at all. It's like a good feeling because they're alive because of you."
Doctors from the Aflac Cancer Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta were perplexed when all three brothers showed signs of the same condition. Will was originally diagnosed with a rare form of lymphatic cancer known as Burkitt’s lymphoma back in 2008. However, when John and Matthew started to display similar symptoms, doctors decided against Burkitt’s seeing as the disease is not hereditary. Finally, an examination of each brother’s blood revealed the definitive diagnosis, XLP.
According to the XLP Research Trust, XLP, or Duncan’s syndrome, is a genetic disorder that causes viral infections in the body’s immune system, often causing an unhealthy imbalance. Around 100 families have been affected by XLP worldwide. A third of patients suffering from XLP will also develop a type of lymphoma cancer and another third will produce low levels of immunoglobulin, the protein in blood used to fight infection. In 1999, XLP specialists discovered this condition is caused by a mutation in one of the genes on the X chromosome.
"I had asked the Lord, ‘Please don't let it be cancer.' But then when it turned to be cancerous, I had to change my perspective and say, ‘Thank you that it's curable. If you get it in time, it's curable, you can fight it,'" Julia’s mother, Christy Jenkins told MyFoxAtlanta. "Here I was approached with the plate of, 'All three boys need a bone marrow transplant to possibly survive.'”
Now that doctors knew what the three Jenkins brothers were suffering from, they knew how to treat them, but that would be easier said than done. Each brother would require a bone marrow transplant to have a second shot at life. Luckily for them, they have a sister with an unwavering devotion to her family. Following a simple blood test that revealed Julia was a perfect match for John and Matthew, the second grader at the time, had bone marrow extracted from her hip in order to save her brother’s lives.
The Jenkins family’s rollercoaster battle with this rare genetic blood disorder was not over yet. All three brothers had undergone chemotherapy treatments at one point, which diminished their immune system. Matthew’s body rebelled against Julia’s cells, and the transplant was rejected. Julia didn’t even consider giving up on her brother. A year later, she was back at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for another eight-hour operation in which doctors removed stem cells from her blood.
A third donation from a kindhearted woman in Texas meant the Jenkins brothers were on their way to recovery. Aside from weekly b-cell count booster injections, John, Matthew, and Will are healthy boys with a fiercely loyal sister three years later.