As mentioned in Jason's recent post, mental_floss makes an appearance in the film My Sister's Keeper. The movie is based on a novel of the same name by Jodi Picoult. The story line is somewhat reminiscent of a controversial case that hit the headlines almost 20 years ago, which may or may not have inspired Ms. Picoult.

Anissa Ayala was a typical athletic teenager in Walnut, California, that spring of 1988. She'd previously discovered some mysterious lumps around her ankles, but kept mum because of her fear of doctors in general and needles in particular. However, shortly after her 16th birthday that year, she experienced such excruciating stomach pain that her parents took her to the ER over her protests. The teen was subjected to a battery of tests, which included many needles, but little did she know that those punctures would end up being the least of her worries; the specialists came back with a diagnosis of chronic myelogenous leukemia. Anissa's outlook was grim; radiation and chemotherapy could put the disease in temporary remission, but the treatments would also destroy her bone marrow, and her body would be unable to replenish her red blood cells. Without a bone marrow transplant, her life expectancy was estimated to be at five years at the most.

Anissa was immediately entered into the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry, with no successful matches found. Likewise her older brother and her parents proved to be incompatible. Anissa's parents were desperate for a solution and decided (despite the one in four odds of a sibling being a compatible donor) to try to conceive another child. The couple had other odds against them as well: Abe Ayala had to first get his vasectomy reversed, a procedure that isn't always successful, and May Ayala was 43 years old.

anissaNevertheless, six months later Mary was expecting a baby girl and when an amniocentesis and tissue-typing tests were performed the couple was overjoyed to discover that the child appeared to be a good match for Anissa. Marissa Ayala was born on April 3, 1990, and 14 months later doctors inserted an inch-long needle into her hip in order to retrieve some of her bone marrow to give to her 19-year-old sister.

Anissa is now 37 years old, married and working for the Leukemia &Lymphoma Society. Marissa is a college freshman and thinks of Anissa, 18 years her senior, as more of a "second mother" than a sister. The pair are happy and seem well-adjusted, but that doesn't mean that their story is without its critics. Even today medical professionals are divided on the issue of conceiving children for this purpose. (Marissa, after all, was unable to actually consent to being a bone marrow donor.) My Sister's Keeper will probably inspire more of this type of debate.

What are your feelings? As a parent, would you take all possible measures to save a critically ill child? What if you were the sibling "“ would you readily give up a kidney or other organ?

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