A transplant is the little girl's only chance for survival
Rihanna is stepping forward to help a 5-year-old New York City girl find a bone marrow donor – the second time in a year that the Grammy Award winner has helped a leukemia victim seek a match.
“When I saw the video of Jasmina it broke my heart. It is so unfair that for a black patient it’s so much harder to find a bone marrow match,” the singer tells PEOPLE exclusively. “Jasmina has acute leukemia and she needs a bone marrow transplant to live.”
Last February, Rihanna helped New Yorker Lisa Flynn find a match by putting out a call for donors on PEOPLE.com. “More than 5,000 donors came forward,” says Katharina Harf of DKMS, the world’s largest nonprofit marrow donor center, which is helping to find a match for Jasmina. “Rihanna has already helped DKMS save many lives,” says Harf. “Now we can count on her again.”
Rihanna was “very upset” when she learned about Jasmina Anema’s struggle with an aggressive and rare form of leukemia, says Harf. “When Rihanna found out about Jasmina, she said, ‘I absolutely have to help her.’ She wanted to do whatever she could for this little girl. Rihanna loves children and no matter how busy she is, she takes time out of her schedule to help them.”
Jasmina s mother, Theodora Anema, who adopted the girl when she was three days old, was “over the moon” when she found out that Rihanna had come forward to help the child find a donor. “My daughter is a huge, huge Rihanna fan,” says Theodora. “Last year when I was in Best Buy, Jasmina was in the store singing and dancing in front of a huge screen with Rihanna on it. The only way I could pull her away was to buy one of Rihanna’s CDs. She’s been listening to it ever since.”
Jasmina is just as thrilled that her idol is helping her. “I’m so excited!” she told PEOPLE with a huge grin from her New York City hospital room, where she has been since Jan. 20.
Jasmina has undergone chemotherapy, but a bone marrow transplant is “the only chance for her survival,” says Harf. “This is a very serious situation.”
Rihanna adds: “Leukemia is the most common disease children in the U.S. die of and we need to change that. I urge everyone to sign up as a bone marrow donor with DKMS. If we have more donors, we can save more children like Jasmina.”
Finding a match is difficult enough for leukemia patients. But for Jasmina, it will be that much harder because she is African-American, says Harf. “For African-Americans, it s so much harder to find a bone marrow match because they are underrepresented in the registry worldwide,” she says. “We need people to come forward immediately and sign up as bone marrow donors.”
Rihanna isn t the only one helping Jasmina. Her best friend, Isabelle Huurman, also 5, and her mother, Karen Detrick, made a touching video (above) to help “find the one for Jasmina.” The two little girls became friends through their mothers, who met at a cocktail party when the children were two and learned that they had adopted their girls from the same adoption agency.
“We always imagined that Jasmina and Isabelle would grow up together and be best friends forever,” says Detrick.
Now, leukemia threatens their special friendship – and Jasmina’s young life. “Because she was adopted, there is no information about her extended birth family,” says Detrick. “While it is possible to find a match for Jasmina among unrelated ethnicities, we are far more likely to find a match among African-Americans. We are asking people of all ethnicities to join the registry today.”
The process is simple: Request a donor kit from DKMS; once it arrives, swab the inside of your cheeks and send back the kit.
Theodora Anema – who says her daughter’s illness has been “like a bad dream” – hopes many people come forward to help Jasmina and other leukemia victims. “Finding a match is our only answer,” she says. “We have to. And we want to bring awareness to this – not just for Jasmina, but for everyone with leukemia. I hope people come forward to help.”