Alejandra Melgar is just 7 years old, but because of serious health problems, she can't lead a normal life full of fun, friends and school work.
Alejandra's immunity is severely compromised because she had a bone-marrow transplant in July. The little girl from Homestead, Fla., suffers from severe sickle cell disease, a genetic condition that causes the blood cells to assume a sickle shape. Because of the shape, the cells can block blood flow and ultimately cause organ damage and strokes.
Throughout her short lifetime, Alejandra has suffered through three strokes. The third one, in October, left her with weakness on her right side and an inability to speak.
"When she was four-and-a-half years old and I was pregnant with my son, she had the second stroke," said Lilian Melgar, Alejandra's mother. "We didn't even know she had the first one, because there were no symptoms or consequences. And the third one was much worse than the second."
Her battle with sickle cell disease led to weekly blood transfusions. But after her most recent stroke, doctors told her mother she needed a bone-marrow transplant. Bone-marrow transplants are generally used to treat only the most severe cases of sickle cell anemia.
Alejandra would have to wait months to find a suitable donor. Her 3-year-old brother, Alejandro, couldn't be a donor because he also has sickle cell disease.
"I was praying to find a donor, but we had to wait to find someone outside the family," Melgar said.
Her prayers were finally answered this summer, and Alejandra underwent a transplant in July at Holtz Children's Hospital Miami.
"Alejandra is recovering well. She's doing very well," Melgar said.
But she's still a long way from living a life similar to other children her age. The bone-marrow transplant left her immunity compromised, so she has to wait almost a full year before returning to school, and can't play with friends.
"After the transplant, we gave her medications to suppress her immune system, so it's really not active. Anything she is exposed to, she can actually contract," said Silvia Willumsen, a nurse and pediatric blood and marrow transplant coordinator at the University of Miami. "The only time she comes out is to come to the hospital to see us."
Alejandra receives physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy at home. Right now, the only word she can say is "Mama."
Because her little brother has to receive regular blood transfusions as well but Alejandra can't go out, Melgar sometimes struggles.
"Everybody says it's hard, but I have to deal with it. I'm fine, and I'm blessed that Alejandra is recovering well," she said.