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After 19-year-old D’Marco Jackson’s death, community continues his mission

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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Friends and family of D’Marco Jackson, a 2015 Hermitage High school graduate who recently died, hope to carry on his mission.

They will continue to share D’Marco Jackson’s passion for raising awareness about bone marrow donations.

Jackson lived with aplastic anemia, a condition in which his body stopped producing enough new blood cells. He also was diagnosed with MDS and PNH, according to a fundraising page, two different cancers that attacked his bone marrow.

Jackson needed a unique bone marrow match because of his mixed ethnicity, but that perfect match never materialized. He passed away from complication following a bone marrow transplant from a donor who was not an exact match.

Experts say the more you have a mix of different ancestries, the harder it is to find that perfect match.

Massey Cancer Center’s Dr. Christina Wiedl performs bone marrow transplants. She said finding matches is one of their biggest challenges.

D'Marco Jackson

D'Marco Jackson

“Unfortunately a person with a diverse background, their chance of finding a perfectly matched donor in the registry is less than twenty percent,” Dr. Wiedl explained. “Yes, it’s heartbreaking.”

She added, when there’s no perfect donor match, patients often go into a transplant situation with an imperfect match, which means a much higher risk of complications.

“When you are doing a bone marrow transplant, the very best chance for the best outcome with the least risk of complications is to have a perfect match,” Dr. Wiedl said.

Jackson’s former high school guidance counselor Jaime Conklin said D’Marco’s main goal was to make sure people didn’t end up in a similar situation like him, searching for a match.

“A lot of people don’t have a family match and him being of mixed descent, it made it that much harder,” Conklin said. “He really wanted people to know that bone marrow donation is an easy process that could save somebody’s life.”

Dr. Wiedl says there are three ways they can get cells during the actual donation. Firstly, doctors can do a bone marrow harvest, a surgical procedure that requires a donor to undergo anesthesia.

“It’s well tolerated and some donors report being sore for a few days and then after that they are back to work and back to a normal family life,” Dr. Wiedl said.

Secondly, there is a procedure that can be done where doctors use a special catheter to collect cells. Dr. Wiedl says they can also obtain cells whenever a woman agrees to a cord blood donation.

“You donate stem cells from the placenta at the time the baby is born. This doesn’t hurt the mom and it doesn’t hurt the baby. The cells could save somebody’s life,” Dr. Wiedl explained.

Conklin says D’Marco’s work to push this message of awareness is his legacy.

“He knew that people of mixed backgrounds have a hard time finding a match. He wanted everyone else to have the same chance that he wanted. He wants everyone to live each day to the fullest like he did. I think that’s what he would want people to know.”

She says family and friends want to honor Jackson by keeping the conversation going surrounding bone marrow donations. They’re hoping people will see this story and sign up at http://www.bethematch.org to get onto the registry and honor D’Marco Jackson.

“Do what he did. Live every day like you don't have another one,” Conklin said. “Live passionately, love passionately and do for others.”

“He was the most lively person I know," she said. "I mean he probably put more into 19 years than most people do in a lifetime.”

Jackson was voted Student Council Vice President, Homecoming King and a speaker at senior graduation.

Jackson said he gave that now famous graduation knowing he had suffered a relapse. But when he was on the stage delivering the speech, he said he felt like he "wasn't sick anymore."

In the speech, which was shared thousands of times on Facebook, Jackson shared inspirational advice with his classmates. Click on the video above to watch it.

Visitation services for Jackson will be held at Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service, 6500 Iron Bridge Rd., from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, April 22, 2016.

Jackson’s homegoing service will be held at the venue on Saturday, April 23, at 11 a.m. That service will be private.

In addition, a celebration of his life will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday May 7, 2016 at Hermitage High School, 8301 Hungary Spring Rd., Henrico, VA. In lieu of flowers, family members ask you register yourself to be a bone marrow donor at bethematch.org or click here to support D'Marco's campaign.

For more on his funeral services click here.