LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A 10-year-old girl once held captive by excruciating headaches caused by sickle cell anemia has a new life that's healthy and active thanks to a bone marrow transplant from her little sister.
It's been a long, at times painful, journey for Marley Franklin and her family, but they her happy outcome will inspire others to sign up for the National Bone Marrow Registry.
Doctors said Marley is fortunate her sister, 4-year-old Maya, was a perfect match.
Even with the most sophisticated testing, the sisters' blood appears to be exactly the same.
Marley's doctor, Neena Kapoor, at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, said "We cannot tell the different and that's the way we want it to be."
That proved crucial for the blood and bone marrow transplants to take hold.
"I used to have headaches that wouldn't be like normal headaches. They would be like headaches where it wouldn't be good for me," Marley said.
The girl's mother, Tirzah Franklin, said "she would just scream that it would hurt so bad."
Marley's headaches were caused by the sickle cell disease, a condition where the body makes blood cells that are irregularly shaped like a crescent moon, which prevents them from delivering enough oxygen to the body.
"It can cause damage to the brain," Kapoor said. "It can cause stroke in a child, because there's no blood flowing to that area. And, unfortunately in Marley's case, that is what was happening."
The only way to manage sickle cell plain is with blood transfusions. By the time Marley was six, she needed new blood every few weeks.
Then Maya was born and their blood proved a 98 percent match.
Maya donated bone marrow, which is responsible for creating red blood cells in the body, to her sister. She bounced back in a matter of hours.
But Marley's recovery proved much more difficult. For the transplant to take hold, Marley's own immune system had to be destroyed through chemotherapy, and all the brutal side effects that come with it.
"It was scary," Marley's dad, Jamar Franklin, said. "It was almost unbearable for me."
On Marley's worst days in the bone marrow transplant unit, Jamar said he was "second-guessing myself, maybe we shouldn't have went through with the bone marrow transplant."
But Marley grew stronger, little by little.
"I was tough enough to get through it," she said.
The young girl also said, "I'm really, really happy to have a family like this."
Maya replied, "I helped my sissy feel better."
The sisters have a special connection that extends beyond shared blood.
They both share a passion for golf.
Marley's parents had her play golf during her recovery and she's proven a natural talent.
"She plays like Phi Mickelson," her dad said.
Marley has entered quite a few tournaments, collecting plenty of medals along the way.
Earlier this year, Marley played at Torrey Pines, the same tournament Tiger Woods entered when he was a boy. She didn't win, but Marley now has an international ranking among 10-year-old girls: "I'm 55th in the world."
Could these sisters be to golf what the Williams sisters are to tennis?
That would be a dream come true, but if she continues to play, get an education, go to college, I'll be satisfied with that," Jamar Franklin said. "And I think Maya will be right behind her."
As Marley continues to beat out the competition on the course, her greatest victory has been overcoming sickle cell anemia.
"She is cured," said Dr. Kapoor, crediting her successful bone marrow transplant.
For more information about the bone marrow transplant program at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles click here.
Resources on sickle cell disease can be found at sicklecelldisease.org.
To get information or to join the National Bone Marrow Registry go to marrow.org.
For more on the Callaway Junior World Golf Tournament go to juniorworldgolf.com.
*Story produced by Gerri Shaftel Constant.
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