Tucson teenager about to get life-saving procedure

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - It is a huge development for a Tucson girl whose story we've been following for much of her life.

Lizzie Bell has a rare condition that doesn't let her body produce red blood cells.

She survives through transfusions.

Her family has sponsored blood donation drives to encourage Tucsonans to give the gift of life.

She also has been working to raise awareness of bone marrow donation.

Now after years of hoping and searching, a perfect bone marrow donor match for Lizzie has been found.

The family just found out Tuesday and is celebrating the next step.

University of Arizona Medical Center has been Lizzie's home for much of her life.

It's the place where she comes every other weekend to have a total blood transfusion to keep her alive.

Soon she'll be leaving her Tucson doctors and nurses, and head to a new life. A truly new life.

We caught up with Lizzie and her mom, Kathy, as they were having a great time at A La Carte Rentals, choosing the decorations, the colors, the theme of Lizzie's going away party.

Friends and supporters are donating money and items for the event.

The party is preparation for an even bigger celebration.

The day when Lizzie and her family are free, no longer tethered to a hospital.

They're going to Minnesota where Lizzie will undergo a bone marrow transplant.

"I'm ready to learn what a regular normal life is like," says Lizzie.

Lizzie has a rare form of anemia, called Diamond Blackfan.

She can't produce her own healthy red blood cells.

Occasionally there are life-threatening crises.

"Normal" is spending every other weekend in the hospital, from Friday morning until Sunday night, getting all new blood.

Preparing for the transplant, chemotherapy and radiation will destroy Lizzie's own bone marrow.

She'll get new, healthy marrow from a donor who chose to help.

"So the last tests were done last week and they called us and said, this is truly a miracle," says Kathy.

The search for a donor has been difficult because according to the bone marrow registry, Lizzie is considered mixed race because she's Anglo and Hispanic.

"Less than three percent of the marrow registry is still--three percent is mixed race. Eight percent are Hispanic, so Hispanics are doing better--but still not enough. Not enough," Kathy says.

Lizzie is thrilled her donor said yes to her.

"I'm very grateful for anyone who just signs up to be a bone marrow donor and if they ever get a call, I hope they say yes," Lizzie says.

The new bone marrow will produce healthy red blood cells, something Lizzie's body has never been able to do.

The Bell's are grateful and say they pray for the donor whom they do not know.

They are excited, ready and a bit frightened.

Lizzie will be in the hospital in Minnesota for at least six months.

For Lizzie's 19 years the Bells have not known another life.

However, after all they've been through, for them this is just the next step.

"This really has to be the time where you just do this thing and you're out the door, focus on college. Let's get over there and start your life," Kathy says.

The reality of how their lives will change is beginning to settle in.

"Our big dream as a family is when this is all said and done, we go to Paris because that's what Lizzie wants to do," Kathy says as she struggles to hold back tears.

Lizzie will be leaving the life to which she has grown accustomed and head out on, what she calls, a new adventure.

"I'm ready. I want to go see what else I can do. So I'm prepared to do these six months to a year and then go for 30 years and figure out what else I can do," Lizzie says.

Lizzie and her mom will leave for Minnesota at the end of June.

Her dad and one of her sisters will stay behind in Tucson.

When she's ready for college, Lizzie will follow her passion.

She wants to be a professional photographer.

Lizzie's medical bills continue to skyrocket.

Her insurance will pay only part of what's needed.

It does not pay for some of Lizzie's medications, including one that costs more than $400 a week.

A fund has been set up to help pay Lizzie's medical expenses while she's in Minnesota.

Kathy says, since it is for medical expenses, donations are not tax deductible.

If you would like to help, donations may be made at any USBank.

The account number is 151704048694.

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