Published July 23, 2017
SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA – It was like every near-death experience Margarita Charley had ever read about.
There were all her dearly departed: her mother, who died when she was seven months old; her father, who died when she was 8; the older sister who raised her; even her stillborn baby boy.
“Come with us,” they said. “We’re ready for you.”
But Margarita wasn’t going anywhere.
“I said, ‘I’m not going!’” she recalled. “I know what it’s like to grow up without a mother. I’m not going to leave my kids behind. I want to see all my grandkids.”
Then she really gave the spirits a piece of her mind.
“‘All these years I’ve been crying over you!’ I told them. ‘Now I’m going to let you go. Go back to where you came from! I’m staying here.’”
That was June 19, 2013, after she was told she was in the advanced stages of acute myeloid leukemia – an aggressive cancer of the blood – and wouldn’t make it through the night.
That awful year, most of which she spent in the hospital unable to walk without four people supporting her, not allowed to even brush her teeth for fear her gums would start bleeding and wouldn’t stop, she would be told three more times she was going to die: when she started bleeding from the bowel after aggressive chemotherapy, when her kidneys and liver shut down at the same time, when she contracted MRSA.
She stopped listening.
“You know what?” Margarita confided, “It never entered my mind I was going to die. I never even cried. The rest of my family did, but I didn’t.”
That was four years ago. Margarita is still here. She’s back home in Chilchinbeto, Arizona, with her husband Clifford. She has seen six grandchildren come into the world.
On Wednesday, she met the reason she is still here: Alysia Joe Seigler.
Alysia and Margarita are sort of sisters now. All the marrow in Margarita’s bones, the stuff that produces her blood cells – “That’s all me!” said Alysia with a giggle. “She’s me and I’m her.”
Margarita has her own incredible will to thank for her survival, and her friend and former boss at Chilchinbeto Clinic, Jackie Hinde, who never left her side through this ordeal. Her family, of course. And if you ask her, God and the Holy People.
But when Margarita’s petite 4’11” frame was down to 62 pounds, and she was once again told to call in her family and settle her affairs, it was Alysia who saved her life.
After several rounds of chemotherapy failed to get all the cancer, the one option left was a bone marrow transplant. But after all her siblings were tested and none was a match, the doctors nearly gave up hope.
Finding a bone marrow donor, which requires a long list of factors to be a match, is a long shot in the general population. For Native Americans, very few of whom are registered on transplant databases, it’s nearly impossible.
For Navajos, who also have to overcome taboos against invasive surgery and sharing body parts with strangers – let’s just say the odds are so low that the doctors didn’t even mention the possibility for a while, not wanting to get Margarita’s hopes up.
But someone had heard Margarita’s plea to live. On Nov. 19, 2013, she got the news that a DNA data bank had found a match. In fact, there were two.
She had been at Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix since June, with only a few breaks of a couple of days at a time to go back north to see her family. After the news of a donor came, Jackie was driving her back to the rez for a visit, after which she was supposed to come back south and check into HonorHealth Scottsdale Shea Medical Center to prepare for the transplant.
The two women were talking excitedly when Jackie got a call.
“She just put her head on the steering wheel,” Margarita recalled. “I said, ‘Jackie, what’s wrong?’
‘The donor backed out,’ she said.”
Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved.