Metro teen steps up to help younger sister receive life-saving transplant

ATLANTA — It started with a scare and then got even scarier for 15-year-old Sofia Irlando.

“I was having like stomach pains. And I had a few fainting episodes,” said Sofia.

Doctors told Sofia she had an aggressive form of leukemia.

“It was very unexpected,” she said. “The doctor thought maybe I had appendicitis due to the stomach pains I was telling her about, but nobody had ever thought maybe cancer.”

Up until then, Sofia was living the life of a normal teenage girl. Doctors at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston told her she desperately needed a blood and bone marrow transfusion.

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Just one day before the scheduled procedure, Sofia’s donor dropped out.

“The process to even find the match in the first place takes so long, so I feel like we had gone through all of that. And then we were so close. And then we just got kicked right back to square one,” Sofia said. “So that was definitely scary.”

Luckily there was someone else doctors could call: Sofia’s sister Bella. Her blood was only a half-match, but doctors could make that work.

“I like got the call and I was at school,” the 18-year-old said. “And obviously, I went straight to the hospital to get tested because I was going to do anything.”

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Just a few days later doctors performed the transplant. Bella gave her sister, the gift of life.

“She just like stepped right in and it was amazing,” Sofia said.

The Irlando sisters hope their story serves as a reminder for the ongoing need for blood donations, especially during the pandemic.

A spokesperson for the Red Cross in Atlanta says their need is always urgent.

“Right now blood levels are steady, but we have to keep our foot on the gas and we have to keep scheduling our blood donations,” Ronnika McFall said.

A year after receiving her transplant, Sofia is recovered and starting a new chapter of life. Now she and her sister hope other donors will come forward, and help save someone else’s life too.

“You’re saving someone’s life whether you know them or not and that’s something I think you should do,” Bella said.

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