HAMIOTA -- Zachi Espayos isn't your average 11-year-old.
Next month, the Grade 6 Hamiota Collegiate student will donate bone marrow to her younger sister, Zoey, who suffers from alpha-thalassemia.
If the procedure is successful and the bone marrow takes, Zachi will again be called upon to donate to Zoey's twin, Zayne, who also suffers from the rare blood disorder.
"I want to help," Zachi said holding Zoey in her arms while sitting across from her mother, Reina, who was holding Zayne at Mom's Kitchen in Hamiota.
While she didn't hesitate after it was learned she was the best match for her twin sisters in the family, Zachi admits there's some trepidation ahead of the transplant.
"I'm a little bit nervous, but I was hoping for sisters and I want little sisters," she said with determination in her voice.
Reina, who moved to Canada from the Philippines in 2010, said it's been a "roller-coaster" of emotions since learning she was pregnant with twins.
After struggling with previous pregnancies, Reina and her husband, MJ, went through genetic testing that revealed they were both carriers of the gene that causes the disorder. While discussing options about how to continue to grow their family, the couple found out Reina was pregnant again.
Months into the pregnancy, the twins were tested in the womb and came back positive for the disorder that can cause anemia, or a decrease in the amount of red blood cells. It often causes death.
There was a chance one or neither of the twins would make it to birth, and Reina said the doctors gave them several options, including terminating the pregnancy.
"There (seemed like there was) no hope," Reina said, her eyes filling with tears as she recounted how she felt when the doctors told her there was a good chance the babies wouldn't survive.
Despite the prognosis, the couple knew what they had to do.
"For me and my husband, we wanted to keep the babies, and for us it was right," she said.
After several blood transplants during the pregnancy, on Aug. 30, 2013, Reina gave birth to the twins.
"We're so blessed," she said, adding Zayne was born with an enlarged heart but has since been cleared by doctors.
"It's a miracle," Reina said, bouncing Zayne in her lap. "They gave me some hope."
The couple is also thankful for all the support they've received from their new community.
"We're really amazed. Wow, we're lucky we're in a small town like this," Espayos said. "They've been supporting us every minute and we're so blessed that they're all there."
Even while speaking with Reina, a woman approached her asking where she could donate to help the family, a testament to the small-town mentality in Hamiota.
But for the Espayoses, their journey is just getting started.
Anyone wishing to donate can call Airdrie Knight at 204-764-2802.
-- Brandon Sun