Happy Birthday, Brandon!

George County student Brandon Murrah will be celebrating his 13th birthday at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

   Brandon Murrah turns a teenager this week in his "home away from home" as he battles leukemia at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.

   For his birthday, Brandon asked friends and family to donate money through a Facebook fundraiser to the hospital. His goal was $1,300 in recognition of his 13th birthday. The gifts, all to benefit hospital research and patient treatment, totaled $3,709, almost tripling his goal.

   "Brandon wants to express his gratefulness for all the donations to the hospital that he loves so much," his mother, Carrina Mixon Murrah of Lucedale, said. "And I want people to know not one dollar donated to St. Jude goes to waste. Every penny goes to the hospital and the families. I was like some of you when I would see the little bald head kid St. Jude commercials on TV thinking to myself there is no way St. Jude really does all of that. Well, I am here to tell you they do. They do everything in those commercials plus some. I have never once been told I have to wait for approval from an insurance company for a test to be done on him. I have never been given a bill for anything, not even for his medications."

   Brandon, whose birthday is July 25, has Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), a cancerous bone marrow disease that can quickly reproduce. He expects to be in Memphis for nine months for St. Jude's treatment plan. He and his mother are living in a two-bedroom apartment, his "home away from home," at Target House, a facility operated by St. Jude for patients who need extended care. Target House is familiar territory for Brandon as he stayed there seven months for treatment at St. Jude after his initial diagnosis in September 2016.

   He was in remission for three years. However, on June 2, Brandon had a checkup with local doctors and the results of that visit led him back to St. Jude. "On June 3, 2020, they confirmed my worst fear, his cancer was back," Carrina said. Brandon's doctors developed a treatment plan involving multiple rounds of chemotherapy and a full bone marrow transplant.

   "Treatment affects his body differently, depending on the medication and chemotherapy that he is taking at that time. All chemotherapy 'kills' your blood counts, red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. When his red blood cells or platelets get to a certain point, they will give him a transfusion from the St. Jude blood bank that someone has graciously donated," Carrina said. "Brandon is having issues with his platelets this time. Because he received so many platelet transfusions last time, his body has created antibodies towards platelets. What this means is every time he would receive them, his body would think the platelets were 'bad' and attack them, killing them off before they could help him," she said.

   Currently the hospital has been able to find only one donor with platelets Brandon's body will accept. The donor is only allowed to donate every three to five days. "We are blessed that donor has agreed to continue to come and make donations for Brandon," Carrina said.

   Anyone who wants to send cards or letters to Brandon can mail them to Patient Brandon Murrah, 262 N Danny Thomas, Memphis Tenn. 38105.

   Anyone who wants to donate to St. Jude can send donations to ALSAC/St. Jude, Attn: Scott Hinshelwood, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, Tenn. 38105. ALSAC stands for American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, the organization founded in 1957 by late celebrity entertainer Danny Thomas for fundraising and awareness of St. Jude.

   St. Jude Thaddeus is the Catholic patron saint of hopeless causes. In his early career as a struggling entertainer, Thomas prayed to the saint, "help me find my way in life, and I will build you a shrine." When his career flourished Thomas remembered his pledge, which led to the establishment of the unique research hospital devoted to curing catastrophic diseases in children.

   "My favorite quote of Danny Thomas is 'I'd rather have a million people give me a dollar than one give me a million. That way you've got a million people involved," Carrina said.

   Award-winning journalist Nancy Jo Maples has been writing about Mississippi people and places for more than 30 years. Contact her at nancyjomaples@aol.com.

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