Trinidad & Tobago, 19th July 2019 – A worldwide fundraising campaign for a 7-year-old girl residing in Trinidad & Tobago has been launched. The #donate4joanna campaign launched today on her 7th birthday, by her parents to raise TT$1,500,000 (€187,000 euros), to cover the cost for their daughter to receive a life-saving stem cell transplant in Italy.

Jason (38) and Colette (37) Braithwaite describe their daughter as a “very loving and intelligent girl who enjoys fixing puzzles, dancing and playing with her older sister, 8-year-old Cayla.

At just 1 year old Joanna was diagnosed with Beta-Thalassemia Major, a severe blood disorder which reduces the production of haemoglobin (the iron-containing protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to cells throughout the body). However, it was at 10 months old that Joanna’s symptoms first appeared, leading her loving parents to take her to their local hospital for an initial check-up with the paediatrician.

Jason says: “Joanna began to behave extremely irritable and lacked energy. By 12 months old, she was very pale and her stomach began to swell. She was immediately referred to the Wendy Fitzwilliam’s Children’s Hospital at Mount Hope, in Trinidad & Tobago.”

It was determined, on admission at the emergency department, Joanna’s spleen was enlarged and she was severely anaemic. At the time doctors were unsure of what Joanna’s diagnosis could potentially be, resulting in many tests being carried out and Joanna being observed around the clock. However, after a phone call with a relative residing in London, UK, who shared her own diagnosis of Beta Thalassemia, Jason and Coletta requested for their daughter be tested for the same blood disorder too.

On August 16th, 2013, nearly one month after Joanna’s first birthday, her parents received the devastating news their beautiful daughter was suffering from Beta Thalassemia Major (the severest form of Beta Thalassemia). In order to maintain her young life, they were advised Joanna would be required to receive blood transfusions every 2-4 weeks alongside a daily dose of drugs that remove excess iron from her blood.

In her short life, Joanna has received just under 80 blood transfusions. Without a stem cell transplant taking place, she will need to continue receiving blood transfusions for the rest of her life.

However, prolonged blood transfusion treatment can potentially lead to complications with the liver and heart and in some cases, organ failure – leading to loss of life.

Jason says: “Research on successful stem cell transplants has indicated that the younger the patient, the greater the chances are for success. Currently, a stem cell transplant is the only approved cure for patients with Beta-Thalassemia Major”.

“My wife and I have been tested and we are both a Haploidentical match (which means we’re half matches) for our daughter, which is good as we don’t need to rely on finding an unrelated stem cell donor for Joanna on the worldwide stem cell registry. However, the cost of flying Joanna to Italy (where the treatment is scheduled to take place) and the cost of the treatment, is an amount of money our small family simply doesn’t have access to. We are appealing to the wider public here in Trinidad & Tobago and abroad to donate whatever you can should the story of our little girl resonate with you”.

MAKE A DONATION TO #donate4joanna

Joanna’s parents have set up a fundraising page (view here) with the help of a family member residing in the UK. They are sharing the campaign hashtag #donate4joanna across social media in the hope to raise global awareness on Joanna’s story.