Above: Dominique Harris received a bone marrow transplant on Dec. 8 from his twin brother, Marquis Harris. The twins are shown playing with a toy at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. Photo submitted
By William Smith
Burlington resident Sawaan Harris is a mother to six children and has raised them with the grit and determination that defines single motherhood.
She is used to hardship. But Harris has never been as scared for one of her babies as she is now. Her 6-year-old son Dominique Harris received a bone marrow transplant on Dec. 8 from his twin brother, Marquis Harris.
The transplant isn’t taking as Harris had hoped. Despite the genetic makeup the twins share, doctors don’t know if Dominique’s body will accept the new cells at all. So far, his body has not accepted the bone marrow but hasn’t rejected it either.
“It can take 40 days before we’ll know if his body accepted it,” Harris said.
Dominique was diagnosed with aplastic anemia in August of this year — a rare and serious condition occurring when the body stops producing enough new blood cells.
“It just came out of nowhere,” Harris said. “We were playing in the park one day, and I noticed he was really pale and got tired really quickly.”
Harris took her son to the emergency room, where he immediately collapsed. He stopped talking and moving.
“It was like his body gave up,” Harris said.
Dominique’s blood count was low. He was hospitalized for two weeks, and at first, doctors thought he had leukemia.
“First, we started with transfusions. We had to have blood and platelet transfusions several times a week,” Harris said.
After being diagnosed with aplastic anemia, Dominique was transferred to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. Aplastic anemia is rare, and doctors told Harris that the hospital had only treated three children with the condition before; two of them died.
Right now, Sawaan Harris has no way to return home. And when she does get back, her apartment will likely have different locks.
Harris’ 17-year-old daughter was poised to go to nursing school until the financial storm of her brother’s illness delayed those plans. She’s at home now, sending pictures to her mother of eviction notices being put on the front door.
Then, just as Harris was trying to figure out her living situation, her only means of transportation — her sister’s car — blew its motor.
“That’s how we got around town,” she said. “I’m stuck here in Iowa City.”
Harris owned and operated a Burlington salon but shut it down after the venture proved unfruitful. She got a home health care job right before Dominique was diagnosed but lost that job due to missing too much work during her probationary period. She was constantly going to Iowa City to be by Dominique’s side.
It’s frustrating for Harris, on a financial level and a personal one. Harris moved to Burlington from Chicago 13 years ago to make a better life for herself and her family.
“I was going through a rough time in Chicago,” she said.
She signed up for low-income housing, got her GED, and entered the local workforce. It was a world of difference from her life before. Harris takes pride in taking care of her children.
“I just want to be self-sufficient,” she said.
Harris was orphaned at a young age, and hopped around dozens of foster families during her childhood – as many as 100, she estimates.
She has made sure her children don’t have to endure what she did. They lost their father – MarQuis Jones – in the police-involved shooting five years ago. Harris was with MarQuis at the scene and was a primary witness. MarQuis died before seeing the birth of his twin boys.
“I was traumatized by that for years,” Harris said.
Just good boys
Dominick and Marquis Brown are visibly adorable. A photo of the two hugging each other could melt an icecap.
That innocence extends to their personalities. They’re just good kids, and they want to grow up together.
“They’re the nicest boys in the world. They’re super happy, and they’re super fun. They love sports. They love to be around family,” Harris said. “They are always smiling. They can light up a room. If you are depressed, you just need to see my twins.”
A family friend of the Harris family has started a GoFundMe page online to gather donations for the family. Those interested should visit the website www.gofundme.com and search for “Dominique and Family Fundraiser.”