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Washington Township, Westmoreland County, rallies around 8-year-old with leukemia

Mya Wilson is the kind of student that dance teacher Tony Tamarella likes to have.

It didn't take long after Mya, 8, and her big sister, Kara, 16, joined Tamarella's Lower Burrell dance studio about two years ago for bonds to be formed.

Mya joined the performing group, a smaller core of students who, among other places, dance at senior care homes.

"She loved to perform," he said of Mya. "She's really very vivacious, really into the performing and (is) an ideal student."

That's why it was all the more surprising when Kara told Tamarella her little sister had been diagnosed with leukemia.

"That was very unexpected and pretty much of a 'wow,'" he said.

The Kiski Area School District's Cavalier Leadership Fund is sponsoring a bone marrow screening and replenishment blood drive for Mya at her school, Washington Elementary, next week.

There also will be a bake sale to raise money for the family, said Donna Rife, a Kiski Area athletic trainer and advisor of the council.

Mya, a third-grader, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, on Dec. 7, said her mother, Leslie Wilson.

ALL is a fast-growing cancer of the white blood cells. There are about 4,000 new cases of ALL in the United States each year, according to the National Marrow Donor Program.

It appears most often in children younger than age 10, and is the most common leukemia in children.

Mya's diagnosis at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh came after she first started appearing ill after Thanksgiving. She was tired, her back hurt and she was running high fevers.

Doctors first said she had an ear infection, and then a virus that just needed to run its course, before further testing found the real cause.

"We went down there thinking she got a really bad case of the flu," Leslie Wilson said. "Never in a million years would I have thought she had leukemia."

Doctors can't say why Mya contracted leukemia. Leslie Wilson said there's no history in the family. She's been getting a "crash course" in the illness.

"Surprisingly, she's taking it very well," Leslie Wilson said. "She's taking it better than I am."

Mya goes in for treatments once a week. Her course of treatment is expected to last at least two years.

So far, test results are running in Mya's favor. Doctors have raised her odds after tests of her spinal fluid came back negative for leukemia cells.

Besides dance, Mya enjoys being outside. Normally an active girl, she's now tired quite often, with medicines taking their toll and making her more sleepy than usual.

Like her big sister, whom she idolizes, she loves owls.

"If you ask her, it's 'peace, love and owls,' " Leslie Wilson said.

Mya was home for Christmas, having returned from the hospital Dec. 16. She hasn't been in school since before the Thanksgiving break.

Leslie Wilson says Mya is doing well right now.

"She's playing with her toys and drawing lots of pictures," she said.

The Wilsons' school and community have rallied to their aid.

At her school, Mya's classmates collected donations at their Christmas play to help the family pay for groceries and gasoline. The play, in which Mya was to have performed, was dedicated to her and recorded for her to watch.

Washington Elementary teachers helped with getting Christmas gifts from Santa to Mya and Kara.

Leslie Wilson said she believes everyone keeping Mya in their thoughts and prayers is working.

"There's an overwhelming amount of support for us," she said. "It gave me a renewed faith in people. All this being done has shown the true meaning of the Christmas spirit this year."

Additional Information:

Coming up

Who: Mya Wilson

What: Bone marrow screening and replenishment blood drive; bake sale.

When: 4-9 p.m., Jan. 5.

Where: Washington Elementary School gymnasium, 4728 Route 66, Washington Township.

Schedule: To schedule an appointment, visit www.centralbloodbank.org using sponsor code ZRTN0894, or call Donna Rife at 724-842-0404, Ext. 4404.

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