It was about three years ago when Shahonna Grove's joints began aching.

Thirty years old seemed kind of young to be developing arthritis, she thought, so she went to the doctor. It wasn't her first encounter with disease. When she was 3, she fell off her tricycle and developed huge bruises. Doctors at Johns Hopkins diagnosed her with Evans Syndrome, a disease that attacks the red blood cells. She received treatment for that, and it went into remission when she was 12. It just went away, she said. Nobody knows why.

This time, something else was wrong. Some blood work later, the doctor sent her to see an oncologist. Treatment with drugs that made her sick and surgery to remove her spleen followed.

She had aplastic anemia; her bone marrow could not produce red blood cells.

The disease can be treated. Grove goes to Lancaster General Hospital every two weeks to get an infusion of irradiated platelets -- they have to be irradiated to prevent any infection since her immune system is compromised by her illness. Every couple of months, she travels to Johns Hopkins from her home in East Prospect for treatment.

The disease dominates her life. She's had to quit her job as a security manager at PPL at Brunner Island. She spends entire days in hospitals, receiving treatment that allows her to live with the disease. If she wakes up and brushes her teeth and her gums start bleeding, she winds up in the hospital.

The treatment keeps her alive.


But she cannot answer the question: For how long?

She needs a bone marrow transplant -- well, more like a transplant of bone marrow stem cells from a matching donor. That could cure the disease.

The most likely donor for such a procedure is a parent or other close, blood relative who shares a significant amount of her DNA.

And that's the problem.

Grove is adopted.

Her mother was a teenager when she was born in 1976. A couple from Stewartstown adopted her and raised her as their daughter.

Growing up as an adopted kid, she always wondered about her birth mother, she said -- as probably most adopted kids do. She wondered what she looked like, what she did for a living, what kind of person she was.

A few years back, she found her, mostly by coincidence. When she started working at Brunner Island, a woman she worked with told her that she looked just like a woman she knew. Her look-alike, it turned out, had the same last name as the maiden name of her birth mother.

And so she found out who she was. She met her, once, a few years ago. They met for lunch at Panera Bread in East York. Grove said the meeting went well. It was brief. But it went well. She said her biological mother told her that she thinks about Grove every year on her birthday, Feb. 4.

At that time, she had no reason to stay in touch with her birth mother. She met her, and that was enough, then.

Meeting her satisfied her curiosity. Looking at her biological mother, she said, was like gazing into a mirror. They look alike.

Once she got sick and needed a bone marrow transplant, finding her biological mother again was more than a matter of curiosity. It was a matter of life and death.

Without a blood relative, it was less than likely that she'd find an appropriate donor. It's not a complex procedure. The doctors would take blood from the donor, separate stem cells from it and inject that into Grove's arteries. The stem cells would provide new bone marrow material.

She said she couldn't find her biological mother. She knew her name and her profession -- a profession that's particularly public, relying upon exposure for success -- but she said she was having trouble getting in touch with her. She located her birth mother's son and left messages at his workplace, even talking to his supervisor, but he never called back, she said.

"It's puzzling," Grove said the other day as she waited to receive an infusion of platelets at Lancaster General. "I don't know what her situation is."

Her birth mother's situation is touchy. She never told her husband or children that she had a baby when she was 16 and gave her up for adoption. When I called her, she made it clear she didn't wish to discuss the matter with me. Later, she called Grove, and Grove said she told her that her family doesn't know about her teenage pregnancy and she wanted to keep it that way.

Still, Grove said, her biological mother offered to help in any way that she could.

That's good enough for Grove.

"I don't want anything from her, other than her stem cells," she said. "She really needs to go and get tested. I don't want to disrupt anybody's life, but at the same time, I don't want to die either."

Mike Argento's column appears Mondays and Fridays in Living and Sundays in Viewpoints. Reach him at or 771-2046. Read more Argento columns at -- click on the opinion section -- or visit his blog at