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Giving and keeping: Yammy Bear donates stem cells to studies, and himself

Charles "CJ" Jackson, the man inside the Yammy Bear suit, is undergoing a unique treatment for a rare illness.

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Yammy Bear celebrates with a family at a birthday party.
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ROCHESTER — Cells in Charles “CJ” Jackson’s bone marrow are producing a protein hurting his organs.

This week, after chemotherapy treatment, Jackson’s doctors will begin the process to replace those cells — with Jackson’s own cells.

Jackson is the man inside the Yammy Bear costume. Yammy Bear has spent the last few years giving out hugs and support to people facing sorrows of all sorts.

Shortly before taking a trip to Uvalde, Texas, in July to meet with community members and survivors of a mass shooting there , Jackson was diagnosed with a rare protein disorder illness called AL amyloidosis.

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The treatment involves removing Jackson’s bone marrow, filtering the cells to collect stem cells and then blasting his bone marrow with another aggressive round of chemotherapy.

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“The goal is to get very mean to the cells that produce the protein, the amyloid that makes the individual sick,” said Dr. Angela Dispenzieri, hematologist and professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic.

By “very mean,” Dispenzieri means killing those cells.

Plasma cells that would produce proteins as an immune response are stuck in an “on” position and continuously making a protein that damages organs. AL Amyloidosis is a rare illness, occurring in about 15 cases per million illness diagnoses. Thanks to the treatment, the life expectancy after diagnosis is about 10 times what it was about 50 years ago, Dispenzieri said.

“This is a very strange disease,” Dispenzieri said. “Right now, the bone marrow is the least sick part of his body.”

Charles "CJ" Jackson was diagnosed with a rare disorder in July.

Stem cells harvested from CJ’s bone marrow will be placed back in his bone marrow after the chemotherapy.

Jackson won’t just be giving himself his stem cells, said his wife, CarolAnn Jackson.

Jackson agreed to donate some stem cells and to participate in three studies related to his illness and illnesses requiring similar treatment, CarolAnn said.

“He’s always giving and finding new ways to give to people,” she said.

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Charles Jackson.jpg
Charles Jackson.
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However, the treatment will leave Jackson effectively without an immune system for several weeks.

CarolAnn Jackson is working to make sure CJ isn’t on his own but also taking care of their six children who live in the couple’s Spring Valley home. CJ will be staying at an apartment in Rochester while he undergoes the treatment.

John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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