Danke schön: Belated Thanks
In July 2010, my sister, Jessica, underwent a bone marrow transplant as part of her treatment for leukemia (ALL). While biological siblings are the best hope for a viable match, I was deemed unsuitable because our HLA tissue only matched 50%. After a few weeks of searching the National Marrow Donor Program (Be The Match), two unrelated donors were identified as potential matches.
Additional testing was done and the best donor was selected. The only information we had on the donor was that she was a female in her early 40s who had children. Five months later, Jess received a note via her doctor’s office from her donor. Typically, donor-patient contact is delayed for up to five years, but the doctors let this note through because it didn’t contain any identifying information. Based on some limited information and observations of the note, we were pretty sure the donor wasn’t American. Her handwriting and syntax hinted that she wasn’t a native English speaker; we thought she might be European.
Jess’s donor just wanted to let her know she was thinking of her and hoped things were going well for her post-transplant. Our family was so excited to hear from this woman–a special person who had so selflessly donated her bone marrow to help a stranger–and I got permission to write her a note of my own.
Thanks to all the encouragement and support from blogging friends and other donors, I composed a note and sent it to the donor via my sister’s doctor. For the next two years, we made several inquiries about getting the donor’s information but nothing ever came to pass.
Right before Christmas this year, Jess again asked for her donor’s name and email or mailing address; her persistence was finally rewarded. You can’t even imagine our excitement on learning this woman’s name and email address! Aside from my sister’s continued recovery and health, it was the best gift our family received.
Jess emailed her donor and received a response with some personal details. This amazing woman lives in Germany and is married with two children. My sister asked her what motivated her to register* as a bone marrow donor, and she responded:
I was registered in 2009. So many people need a donor and it’s so easy to help…On the 6th of April 2010, I got the message that I may be suitable as a donor. After many investigations it was clear that my stem cells are suitable. On 29th June 2010, I went with my son (age 15) to…donate from 8:00-14:00. A courier brought the bag to the airport quickly. In the afternoon of this day, we went to…church and light a candle for you. We are not religious but it doesn’t matter. Two days later I was informed that my donation went to a 33-year-old woman in the USA.
Reading about the transplant from the donor’s perspective was amazing. I was eager to thank her and share just how meaningful her donation was, so I decided to use photographs. In addition to a timeline of photos detailing my sister’s leukemia journey, I included many family photos highlighting trips, holidays, celebrations, and everyday life. My intent was to convey Jessica’s story and show the donor that her donation didn’t just save a 33-year-old woman…it saved an entire family.
*The National Marrow Donor Program collaborates with several international registries. I’m so grateful to this program and to all the registered donors out there.