Local fundraiser helps Monroe teen battling leukemia
Bailey Aldridge was a normal teenager finishing the ninth grade when she got the news. Months of feeling weak, tired and short of breath, coupled with intermittent bouts of fever, led to a final diagnosis that made dreams of trying out for softball or volleyball recede in importance.
“It was winter,” Bailey’s mother, Donna Aldridge, recalled. “The doctors kept guessing she had this or that infection that everyone else was getting.”
One Friday in early May, howeverm Bailey began to run a high fever. After a visit to the emergency room followed by a Monday morning doctor’s visit, her pediatrician gave the 14-year-old the diagnosis: Acute Myelogenous Leukemia or AML, a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
Bailey immediately plunged into the fight of her life, exchanging visits with friends, school and music for visits to hospitals, blood work and chemotherapy – and the inevitable side effects of high fevers, hair loss and intense bone and joint pain.
A morphine pump provides some relief, but “it takes about three weeks to recover from a round of chemo,” Bailey’s mom said.
Bailey is in her fourth round and has one left to go.
Bring It On
Despite the hardships, Bailey’s “can do” attitude is apparent in her everyday living and the pictures posted on her Facebook account. “You can see who she is in her pictures,” said Rhonda Hull, who is helping organize a fundraising tournament on Bailey’s behalf at Rack ’Em Billiards in Matthews.
Donna Aldridge agreed. “I always knew she was a strong girl, but this disease seems to have made her even stronger.”
The doctors are impressed at her determination. “Whenever they (the doctors) change anything about her treatment,” Aldridge said. “She just says, ‘Bring it on.’ ”
Hull is an employee at Rack ’Em. Although she and Bailey had never met, Bailey’s story touched Hull when an Aldridge family friend approached her to ask about Rack ’Em’s fundraising tournaments. Hull looked Bailey up on Facebook. “The impact this girl has had on me was immediate,” Hull said. “I saw her face and knew I had to help.”
One weekend a month, the pool hall holds a fundraiser in which members of the American Poolplayers Association compete. On Nov. 6 and 7, part of tournament proceeds go to support the Aldridge family’s expenses and raise awareness for Bailey’s plight. The five-man tournament requires a $100 team entry fee, and teams must pay the entry fee by Nov. 4. Space is available for 48 teams.
The winning team will split the earnings 50/50 with the Aldridge family. Rack ’Em will hold raffles all day and award items donated from the community. So far, the pool hall has gotten donations of golf clubs from the local Lexus dealership, a check from the Cadillac dealership and restaurant gift cards. “The list goes on and on,” Hull laughed.
Like many Americans, Bailey’s family went through a brief job transition earlier this year. As a result, the family had two months of non-coverage. For the Aldridge family, those two months translated into $570,000 in unpaid medical expenses. Fortunately, their current health insurance has picked up the rest.
The family is grateful for every cent raised, although Donna Aldridge admits they may pay medical bills for “the rest of our lives.”
“Every dollar counts,” Hull said.
Treatment, eventual transplant?
Chemotherapy is supposed to end in November but will likely continue through the end of the year. So far, Bailey’s tests indicate her cancer is in remission.
If Bailey’s sister, Abbie, had been a bone marrow match, doctors would’ve recommended a bone marrow transplant as the best way to beat the disease. Unfortunately, Abbie is not, and should the leukemia come back, Bailey will need to find a match from the National Bone Marrow Registry.
Hull treated that news as a challenge. “I am working with Chick-fil-A to try and organize a bone marrow drive in Bailey’s name,” Hull said.
Participating in a bone marrow drive today merely requires a painless cheek-swab sample. Sadly, less than 1 percent of people tested even make it to the point where they may be a potential marrow match, making high turnouts at marrow drives critical.
Many have responded to Bailey’s plight. Time Warner Cable awarded her four Justin Bieber tickets this summer in between treatments. She got to meet Bieber face-to-face and proudly greeted her teen idol sporting her baldness. Just a few days later, Time Warner hosted a bone marrow screening at its Monroe office.
Voci Spa also donated a day visit for Bailey’s mother.
Supporters can join in by playing pool, cheering on a team and wearing a “Fight to Save Bailey” T-shirt, which Hull designed and Rack ’Em printed. The Bailey Aldridge Benefit Tournament will open its doors at 11 a.m. Nov. 6, a Saturday, and tournament play begins at noon.
Bailey’s medical team at downtown Presbyterian Hospital, her parents and her sister, Abbie, plus a network of friends and family, have remained steadfast throughout the ordeal.
“You really find out who your real friends are during a time like this,” Donna Aldridge said. Friends have sent family-friendly care packages, helped keep Abbie’s schedule going as much as possible, sat by Bailey’s bedside so her parents could run errands and cleaned the Aldridge house from top to bottom.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation has stepped in as well, and Bailey’s family hopes to go somewhere special once her treatments are complete. q
Want to help?
Call Rhonda Hull at Rack ’Em pool hall in Matthews, 704-847-7665. People can make donations at www.afightforbailey.myevent.com and through Rack ’Em’s Paypal account. Learn more about the national bone marrow program at www.marrow.org.