The Healing Spirit

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Ask Briana Donis how she’s feeling, and she doesn’t hesitate: “Amazing!” she says.

That answer isn’t what you might expect, considering the Houston 19-year-old underwent her second bone marrow transplant just 10 days earlier. “All the chemo and radiation and all of these drugs and foreign transfusions will kick my butt, but my spirits are high,” she continues. From the cheerful sound of her voice, you would never know that Donis is battling a rare and life-threatening blood disease, aplastic anemia.

Donis was diagnosed with aplastic anemia last March, just after receiving her acceptance letter to UT. “That was the hardest thing for me,” she says. “That I could not go to UT, my dream school, where I wanted to go, where I worked so hard to be.” As her friends packed for the Forty Acres, Donis prepared to spend the fall in and out of Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.

The disease keeps Donis’ body from producing enough new blood cells, leading to extreme fatigue and a compromised immune system. It’s treated similarly to cancer, and so for the past year she’s undergone chemotherapy, radiation, and two bone marrow transplants. Because of Donis’ high risk of infections, she has also been isolated in her hospital room for nearly a month.

But Donis stays positive by staying active. Each day, she dedicates time to practicing yoga, an exercise she discovered just two months before her diagnosis. “I was really intrigued because it challenged more than the physical me. [It challenged] the inner me and taught me to breathe, calm down, and get through,” she says.

Throughout her journey, the teenager has been posting photos of her yoga poses to Instagram and Facebook from the hospital. In doing so, she’s gained the support of thousands of inspired followers. Her story has been featured on BuzzFeed, People, and the Huffington Post, and for Donis, all the attention is a gift. “I really want to use this opportunity that I’ve been given to spread awareness of aplastic anemia,” she says. In particular, she hopes to introduce more people to, a website that connects bone marrow donors to transplant patients in need. Because of Be The Match, Donis says, she’s been given “another chance at life.”

Donis currently has a medical deferment from UT, but when she finally gets to Austin, she has her sights set on a health-related career. “Learning about medicines and all about my body, it’s really matured me,” she says. While she doesn’t know whether she’ll be a doctor, nurse, or even a yoga instructor, she does know that she’ll spend her life helping others.

Until then, Donis is simply taking things “day by day” by focusing on her own yoga and treatment. And since her transplant on March 17, she’s already feeling renewed. “I’m starting over,” she says, “physically and spiritually.”

See how Donis is inspiring people around the world with her story:


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