Danke schön: Belated Thanks

In July 2010, my sister 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, my sister 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.

Her 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, my sister 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.

She 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 my sister’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.


  1. She gave an amazing gift and I’m glad you got to reach out and make contact. I know that many people reach out to their donors but usually they are not alive — the thanks go to the family that donated organs after death and it can be really heartbreaking for the family. (My uncle went throught it.) I’m glad you got to express your thanks and make contact. How wonderful!

  2. How cool that your family was finally able to make contact! And the family photos is a brilliant idea.

  3. Great story with a very happy ending. It’s awesome that you could get in touch with the donor. It’s amazing that nowadays national borders mean nothing in some situations.

    Re the handwriting, I always found it the most amazing thing that handwriting is so different in different countries. There seems to be a national tilt to handwriting as much as to accents.

  4. How wonderful, Natalie. I am so glad that your sister is doing well. People like the donor in Germany are very generous to give of themselves in that way. I’m glad that you all were able to hear from her again.

    Many wishes for a wonderful new year for you and your family!

  5. This seriously brought tears to my eyes, Nat. Knowing that a complete stranger offered something so precious, with no hope or interest in compensation.. could there be anything greater? I am beyond thrilled knowing such a true fairy tale is possible, and that happy endings aren’t always in books.

    Love you babe!


  6. I’m disqualified from giving bodily fluids in the US because of Mad Cow Disease (an infinitesimal risk but you know what the liability scene is like here) but it’s heartening to know that it’s possible to source lifegiving marrow from abroad. It gives the Global Village a whole new meaning. Thanks for sharing the story!

  7. I have to admit – I’m a bit jealous that she knows about her donor! I can only imagine how special that is for all of you!!

    My Dad had a heart Transplant the night before thanksgiving (11:50pm, to be exact – so 10 minutes before “Thanksgiving”) in 2005. My family is eternally grateful for the donor, but we’ve never really learned anything about them. I have encouraged my parents to send a thank you through UNOs (or however) but they still struggle with that themselves.

    I am so glad that your sister continues to thrive, and that you have received this information!!

  8. So wonderful. I’m so happy you were able to make direct contact with the donor, and I have a feeling this will be the start of a beautiful correspondence for your two families. As you know, I was so inspired by your sister’s story that I also joined the National Bone Marrow Registry — and if called upon, I’ll be there 110 percent to help anyone in need. That’s what life is all about.

  9. that’s amazing! i’m so glad that you were able to get her information and make contact with her. i’m also happy to hear that your sister is doing so well post treatment! hope ya’ll had a wonderful christmas and new years!

  10. My mom had a bone marrow transplant from an anonymous donor in 2009. Her first donor actually backed out at the last second, which made us all the more thankful when we managed to find a 2nd match. Thank goodness there are so many wonderful people out there willing to be on the registries.

    I’m so glad your sister was able to find a match too, and it’s wonderful that she’s doing well. I just wanted to let you know that I totally know how you feel, and also thank you on behalf of my family too for helping to spread the word about donor registries!

  11. What a great post – I love your idea of sending family photos so the donor learns a little about the family to whom she gave such a gift.

  12. I can’t read that last line without getting a little misty. This is such a wonderful story and I am so happy you were able to make contact after all of it.

  13. What a lovely gift to send, in response to the priceless gift she gave to your sister and her whole family. I’m glad this story had a happy ending!

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