By Emerson Lehmann
WEST ALLIS, Wisconsin (WDJT) — Anyone who has visited a short track in Wisconsin over the past decade has probably heard of the Apel family.
Steve Apel is a multi-time track champion at Slinger Super Speedway in the Super Late Model division, and even spends some weekends racing Legend cars on the dirt track scene with his brother, Jared.
“Racing has always kept our family so close,” Steve Apel said. “It’s really special to use racing as an avenue of ways to spend time together.”
This story isn’t about Steve, or Jared, or their successes on the race track. It’s about the two youngest members of the Apel Racing program, 6-year-old Cameron and his brother, 4-year-old Harrison.
“They’re best friends when it comes to the day-to-day activities and brotherly love,” Apel said. “They like to wrestle and have fun, but they also love to have fun and spend time at the race shop. Not just with myself, but my wife and the whole race team.”
Whether racing their pedal karts and scooters around the race shop while dad and team work on the cars, or racing go-karts on the small dirt oval in the family’s back yard, the two Apel boys have been bit by the racing bug.
“Cameron started racing his go-kart last year at Beaver Dam and loved it,” Apel explained. “The two boys race each other all the time and it’s really cool to see.”
Now is the time of year when the family team should be putting the finishing touches on the karts and cars for the upcoming season, however, the life in the fast lane for the Apels hit a figurative speed bump during the winter months.
“Cameron was starting to feel run down and sick,” Steve explained, with his wife Liz sitting by his side. “We kind of thought of it as just a common cold. He got better after a couple weeks and then he’d get sick again. Get a cold, get the flu.”
After what the family described as five colds over the span of two months, Steve and Liz decided it was time to go in to the doctor and get their oldest son checked out. The results of the tests were something no young family wants to hear.
“We were at Children’s for 5 days that first stint,” Steve said. “It was determined that there was some concern with his bone marrow, or blood counts.”
Cameron has Severe Aplastic Anemia, a blood disorder that will require a bone marrow transplant. The family began the process of searching for a match for the six-year-old. Enter his four-year-old co-driver.
“It was determined that his brother, Harrison, is a 100% match,” Steve said. “The success for a bone marrow transplant with a brother or sister donor is very good.”
On Monday, Cameron will receive a lifesaving bone marrow donation from his little brother. While fortunate that their two boys are a match, the Apels understand that not every family has the same fortune.
According to Be The Match, any given year there are about 12,000 individuals in the United States that are in need of a bone marrow transplant and donor. About 70% of patients don’t have a full matched donor in their family, meaning they need to work with Be The Match to find an unrelated donor for transplant.
“Patients have the best outcomes and find their matches from people who share their genetic background,” explained Kate McDermott with Be The Match. “Lots of potential donors but we always need more people to sign up.”
There are roughly 9 million donors currently signed up in the United States, however, McDermott says that around 50% of the time when someone is called as a potential match for a patient, they decline to move forward with the process.
“If you are called, you may be that patient’s only match on the registry,” McDermott said. “That’s how intricate this match is. It needs to be a pretty close genetic match.”
The Apel family is hopeful their story will help inspire others to consider being bone marrow donors to help families that are facing similar challenges, especially those with different ethnicities.
“Sometimes those kids sit on the wait list for ever and ever because they don’t have a sibling match,” Liz Apel said. “Trying to raise awareness across cultures and ethnic groups to sign up as donors.”
Along with encouraging folks to sign up for Be The Match, the Apels have also called on the racing community to send speed cards, hats and apparel Cameron’s way to help put a smile on his face as he and Harrison continue their journey. Steve says the community has delivered.
“It blows my mind, the amount of people that have reached out from across the country,” Steve said. “We can’t thank everybody enough for everything that they’ve done to this point. Racing is really a big community of family and seeing the outreach so far has really made the connection full circle.”
The Apels have asked that anyone looking to donate money to do so to The MACC Fund, Children’s Wisconsin, Be The Match or Versiti.
If Cameron’s story inspires you to want to sign up to be a bone marrow donor, visit this link HERE.
Anyone in the racing community looking to send speed cards/hats/merchandise for Cameron and Harrison can mail them to this address:
Cameron Apel Room 591 E5 Hot 8915 W Connell Ct. Wauwatosa, WI 53226
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