Cristina Di Corte, right, pictured with her stepgrandmother Anna Cartaginese, is looking for a bone marrow match. Di Corte is one of only 70 diagnosed cases in the world of mitochondrial neurogastrointestinal encephalopathy (MNGIE), a disorder that affects the digestive and nervous system. Photo courtesy of Tony Di Corte

Mississauga youth searching for a life-saving match

By 
  • March 28, 2012

To say Cristina Di Corte was not feeling well would be an understatement. After experiencing bad abdominal pains and vomiting, her doctor thought she might have acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease or even an eating disorder.

But after visiting a specialist, Di Corte received some very different news. “Your gut doesn’t work,” he told her.

“The muscles around my digestive system don’t function properly so if I eat, it stays in my stomach for a very long time. Eventually, it starts to rot and it ends up making me sick,” said Di Corte, 22, a graduate of St. Joseph Secondary School in Mississauga, Ont.

In November, Di Corte was diagnosed with mitochondrial neurogastrointestinal encephalopathy (MNGIE) disease, a rare, inherited, multisystem disorder that affects the digestive and nervous system. She is one of only 70 cases in the world.

To slow down the disease from moving to her other organs, Di Corte needs a bone marrow transplant — and is desperately seeking a life-saving match.

The best prospect for a match would be a male between the ages of 17 and 35, she said.

Because she is of Italian descent, her match will most likely be someone of Italian heritage. Once a match is found, she’ll have to undergo a few sessions of chemotherapy to kill her marrow cells and then the donor’s will be injected into her.

Although she was diagnosed about five months ago, Di Corte started having problems shortly after she graduated high school in 2007.

One of the effects of MNGIE is that Di Corte is unable to eat or drink as her body is unable to absorb nutrients.

“I have a PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter) inserted in my arm,” which provides a substance similar to nutritional drinks like Ensure.

“It helps keep up my calories and my nutrition and keep on a certain amount of weight so I don’t get really, really sick. And I have the PICC line for other things like nausea medicine.”

While her weight is now about 85 pounds, last year it dipped to just 66 pounds.

Di Corte has been to a couple healing Masses.

“There’s been a great amount of people telling me they’re praying for me and that God wants me to live as long as I can. . . . It makes me feel like I have someone watching over me. It gives me hope.”

Another source of hope for Di Corte is her brother, Anthony, who launched a Twitter campaign to help raise awareness about the need for a donor.

He has been using the hashtag #hopeforcristina in his tweets, hoping his posts will be retweeted to garner greater awareness. He is also hoping to get #hopeforcristina to trend on Twitter.

“We’ve had a great response,” said Di Corte.

On a daily basis, she tries to keep a daily routine but it’s tough as she feels different every day. She used to work full-time at a salon, but now has taken on part-time hours.

Looking forward, Di Corte still has her hopes and dreams.

“I want to live the life I was expecting to live. I want to work full-time, get a good clientele, get married, have kids. Obviously I’m going to have some bad days, but I want more good days than bad days.”

To register as a potential donor, see www.onematch.ca or see www.HelpingCristina.org for more information.

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