Sportscaster Chuck Freeby's daughter faces life-threatening disease

Published: Aug. 17, 2017 at 6:13 PM EDT
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Working in broadcast television is often thought of as glamorous, but 90 percent of what we do is off camera, and we face many of the same issues you do.

The daughter of WHME Sports Director (and fill-in WNDU sports anchor) Chuck Freeby is facing a one-in-a-million diagnosis with a life-threatening disease.

Mary Freeby, the third of Chuck and Diane's six children, learned last month that she has a disease called PNH (paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria).

“The cells in our bone marrow that make the rest of the cells that go into our bloodstream develop a mutation, which makes them susceptible to breakdown by part of the immune system,” said Dr. Colleen Morrison, a pediatric oncologist at Memorial Children's Hospital (Beacon).

The Holy Cross College senior is infused with a drug weekly, but it’s not a cure.

Mary needs a bone marrow transplant. She found out by donating blood.

“They told me that my red blood cells were too low to donate,” she explains. “As I am going to the doctor for my cold and everything, I ask them to check me for anemia, and they go and do the CBC blood count check, and they see that I have anemia. They see I also have low red blood cells and low platelets.”

That's when Mary and her parents met with Memorial Children's Hospital (Beacon) pediatric oncologist Dr. Colleen Morrison and learned she had PNH, or bone marrow failure.

Fortunately, Dr. Morrison had seen PNH before, and Mary was diagnosed early. Still, she will need a bone marrow transplant to survive.

“At this time, bone marrow transplantation is the only cure for PNH,” said Dr. Morrison.

“If she didn't get the bone marrow treatment, she would be getting an IV every week or every other week for the rest of her life, and the only cure for this disease is to get a bone marrow transplant, and that's not a whole lot of fun,” Chuck admits.

Mary will be hospitalized for roughly 100 days, needing chemotherapy and then the transplant.

“You're getting a whole new bone marrow into you. It's like a car getting a brand new engine,” Chuck explains.

The Freebys were shocked that their otherwise healthy, active and spirited daughter was ill.

“It didn't sink in right away, it was very surreal,” said Diane. “We try not to get too far ahead of ourselves and just sort of stay in the moment with what's going on.”

Mary will go to the University of Cincinnati Children's Hospital once a donor is found, and they are hopeful they may soon find a match.

“They've identified what they said were plentiful, probable donors,” said Diane.

With no guarantee yet, the Freebys are advocating that everyone between the ages of 18 and 44 register to become a donor. You'll be sent a kit with a Q-tip swab for your cheek.

“It's free, which for a sportscaster is important,” Chuck says.

But humor aside, Chuck and Diane say the need is real for the 20,000 people who will need bone marrow transplants this year.

“It's a little easier for Mary because she's white,” Chuck explains. “One of the things we are trying to do is bring awareness for our friends who are African-American or Latino or Asian or mixed race. Those people get on the registry too, because those people need bone marrow donations as well.”

And like her parents, Mary is advocating for not only bone marrow donors, but blood donors also.

“It's a little ironic, I think, that I was trying to help other people that way and then it ended up saving my life,” Mary said

With Freeby humor and faith, Mary has no doubt she'll make that goal of walking with her graduating class in May.

“I trust my doctors and I have faith in God,” she says.

Mary's friends at Holy Cross are holding a Mary's Match donor registry drive at the college on Sept. 12, and they are inviting members of the community to come in and get their cheeks swabbed.

Before that, there are also drives on Aug. 23 at Crowe Horwath in and Aug. 26 at Corpus Christi Parish, both in South Bend.

For a free kit, you can also go to the Bone Marrow Registry at