Mandi Schwartz, the sister of 2010 NHL first-round draft choice Jaden Schwartz, is preparing for her toughest battle yet.
Schwartz arrived at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance on Monday after leaving her home in Saskatchewan on July 12. She made the 1,000-mile journey via motor home with her family, including fiancée Kaylem Prefontaine, after more than two months of chemotherapy back home at the Pasqua Hospital in Canada.
According to friends of the family, her cancer treatment -- including the stem cell transplant she needs to survive -- will now be overseen by the doctors at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
As such, the family is making one last push to locate a perfect match before the transplant is performed next month.
Mandi, 22, is suffering from acute myeloid leukemia, and doctors informed the family that she has until September to find a stem cell donor. While partially-matched donors have been identified, the search remains open in finding an even better match, which includes a mixture of German, Russian and Ukrainian decent.
"I want to thank everyone for their support and prayers, and I will see everyone again soon after a successful transplant," Mandi told yalebulldogs.com.
Mandi Schwartz (David Silverman, DSPics.com)
The chemotherapy that Mandi received in Saskatchewan has put the cancer in remission -- a requirement in performing a stem cell transplant.
She was first diagnosed with the blood cancer that has been destroying her bone marrow in December 2008, just days after playing for the Yale women's hockey team in a 4-1 victory against Brown.
"I just felt really weird and I didn’t know what it was -- just infection and illnesses all the time," she told The Yale Daily News. "Toward the end, my body got really sore, and I thought it was just from working out."
Upon the diagnosis, she returned home to Wilcox and underwent multiple rounds of chemotherapy and was in remission by the spring of 2009. She returned to Yale in January 2010, to complete her junior year -- but less than four months later, tests revealed the cancer had returned. She was back home in April and immediately began chemotherapy once again while Dr. Tedd Collins, a New Haven-based clinical immunologist who specializes in finding donors for patients whose heritage makes it difficult to find matches, began pounding the pavement to locate donors.
What makes this whole ordeal all the more disturbing is the fact Mandi might have been in the best shape of the three Schwartz siblings -- including Jaden and brother Rylan, who just concluded his freshman year at Colorado College.
Jaden was drafted with the No. 14 pick by the St. Louis Blues on June 25 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Schwartz, who will join his brother at Colorado College this fall, was the leading scorer in the United States Hockey League with the Tri-City Storm this past season, notching 83 points (33 goals) in 60 games. He became the youngest player to lead the league in scoring since 1982-83 and his output was the highest point total since Thomas Vanek in 2001-02.
Mandi began playing hockey when she was 6, and was captain of the women's team at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Sask., before attending Yale.
On June 9, she learned her cancer was in remission again, but now the search for a stem-cell donor has become of even greater importance. It won’t be easy -- more than 1,600 people were tested at bone-marrow drives at Yale the past two springs, but no one was a match for Mandi. The search has intensified to the point that the "Become Mandi's Hero" campaign has become a world-wide effort.
"We're still looking for that perfect match," Jaden told NHL.com. "It's hard to find that 10-out-of-10, match but we're doing a lot of work to find it. Mandi's spirits were a little bit down when she had to undergo chemo a second time, but she's doing good. Donors of German, Russian or Ukrainian decent would probably be the best matches for her. She's a positive and dedicated person and she's going to do that all the way through."
Much like she did when Jaden first laced on a pair of skates at the age of 2.
"Mandi and Rylan were already playing and I wanted to join them, and she was definitely a part of me playing hockey," Jaden said. "We've kind of always played together every summer on the ponds or on the rink. She's such a hard worker, just like she is in anything in life. She's dedicated and wants to be the best she can. She can play scrimmages with the guys, so she was right there with all of us."
For information on how to become a stem cell donor or for more information on Mandi Schwartz, please visit http://www.becomemyhero.org/mandi_schwartz/mandi_card.html, www.onematch.com or www.becomemandishero.net.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale