Wednesday, June 20, 2007

BACK TO BEING BRIA: 5-year-old puts marrow transplant behind her

'Life's 100% better now'

June 20, 2007



With her shy eyes looking at the floor, Bria Banks didn't smile when given a shiny pink bicycle.

Or when handed a gift bag full of toys.

Or when shown the oversize novelty check promising a free trip to Disney World.

The first thing that got 5-year-old Bria to smile at a luncheon in her honor Thursday was a simple blue balloon, which she batted around as she began to giggle.

She was all smiles after that.

That's when it became clear: Bria, who just six months ago was so sick with aplastic anemia and Fanconi anemia that she would have died without a bone marrow transplant, is a little kid again.

And so is her 7-year-old brother, Brandon -- her marrow donor.

"Life's 100% better now," said Twan Banks, Bria and Brandon's father. "The family's all together."

Last November, Bria went to Cincinnati to get the transplant and spend her recovery time. Her mother, LaTisha Lockett, stayed with her.

Meanwhile, Banks stayed with the couple's two other children -- Brandon and 1-year-old Brielle -- at the home of Lockett's mother in Detroit.

"It was hard having half the family here and half of it there," Banks said.

Bria was given the bike, toys and trip Thursday by the Olympic Steel Co.'s Detroit division.

The company adopted the Bankses as a Make-A-Wish family for the holiday season and bought the gifts with donations that kept spilling in after Christmas.

"It's nice to take time to slow down and remember what's really important in life," said Michael Cedoz, the division's general manager.

But for the Bankses, the adoption went far beyond Christmas. The children's tale -- of an older brother helping save his little sister's life -- touched employees, Cedoz said.

"We got to help and share some of our blessings," he said.

Bria's diagnosis came in September. Both anemias are rare blood disorders that attack the bone marrow.

The transplant was no easy procedure as Bria was allergic to some of the medications and had two seizures.

Doctors had to revive her after she quit breathing. An MRI revealed minor brain damage from the temporary lack of oxygen.

After spending about four months recovering in Cincinnati, Bria came back home to Detroit. She takes medication daily to suppress her immune system so her body won't reject the foreign marrow.

Other than that, her family says, life for Bria is nearly back to normal.

And, after her initial shyness wore off, that's how it appeared Thursday.

Wearing a yellow-and-pink Dora the Explorer outfit -- her head, once bald from chemotherapy, now covered in wispy black hair -- she quietly sat at the luncheon and gobbled down pasta.

But when Brandon and Brielle started batting around those balloons, she slowly got up and joined in. And then she smiled.

"I knew you had it in you," her mother said with a laugh. "Where were you hiding?"

Contact AMBER HUNT at 313-222-2708 or

Copyright © 2007 Detroit Free Press Inc.

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