For NHL prospect Jaden Schwartz, his big sister has always been a hero, for her abilities both on and off the ice.
“I’ve looked up to (her) my whole life,” said Jaden, who will turn 18 while at the upcoming draft in Los Angeles, Calif. “She’s very strong.”
But while Mandi Schwartz, 22, is a natural role model for friends and family members alike, she is now in search of her very own hero – a hero who will hopefully save her life.
Mandi, a forward for the Yale University Bulldogs and former candidate for Canada’s National Women’s Under-22 Team, has acute myeloid leukemia and is in desperate need of a proper stem-cell donor before moving forward with a bone-marrow transplant in a matter of weeks.
It’s a good thing she’s a fighter, whether battling for the puck or battling for her life, because time is running out.
In fact, Mandi just found out Wednesday, June 9 that she’s in remission for a second time, which means she’ll be healthy enough to undergo surgery.
“Last time, it was … her first bout with the leukemia and her body was quite receptive to chemotherapy treatment,” mom Carol Schwartz said from the family’s Wilcox, Sask. home, where Mandi was resting after fighting off pneumonia in the intensive care unit.
But this time around, “her body’s not going to be as receptive,” Carol said. “We have to proceed with the bone-marrow transplant.”
Without a donor who can provide stem cells that are a 10-out-of-10 DNA match for Mandi, the upcoming operation will be risky. All of her immediate family members, including Jaden and 20-year-old brother Rylan, have had cheek swabs to have their cells tested but none came close to matching.
Since she was first diagnosed with the deadly disease in late 2008, friends in the hockey community both at home and south of the border have been rallying around Mandi, and after kicking the leukemia she was able to return to the the sport she loves for part of the 2009-10 season.
And since the leukemia’s return was confirmed in late April, efforts to save the young hockey player’s life have gone into overdrive. Supporters are holding bone marrow drives across the country, encouraging expectant mothers to save the valuable blood from their baby-to-be’s umbilical cord and spreading the word through an aggressive online campaign – all in an attempt to beat a very aggressive cancer.
After all, they know Mandi would do the same for them.
“She’s one of the nicest, most caring people I’ve ever met,” said Tegan Schroeder, 22, a close friend who played hockey with Mandi at Notre Dame College in Wilcox. “And hardest working. She’d always be the one to push you to that next level.”
If her hero doesn’t show up soon, Mandi will have to accept cells from the closest DNA match possible, currently a 9-out-of-10 donor from Germany, far from a guarantee for success.
In the meantime, her family and friends are keeping Mandi’s spirits up and staying positive themselves, something that seems to be paying off, since doctors told the Schwartzes just this week that they’re checking out another potential donor.
“This could be a 10-out-of-10,” father Rick Schwartz said. “We’re always hoping.”
“We’re positive that we’ll find a match for her and she’ll be able to live her life to the fullest,” Tegan added. “There is one person out there that can be her hero.”