I'm going to go ahead and say, that as far as BIG DAYS go, meeting my dad's stem cell donor and family is on par with my wedding day and the birth of my kiddos. For real. It did not disappoint.
I'm not even sure how to tell the story, or where to start, so it might just all be my famous (or infamous) verbal diarhea. As in, here's all the deets - you put them in the order of your preference. But, Saturday night, for the first time, my dad met Brian, his wife Kathy and their three children. And so did we.
The meeting was set to take place at a trivia night benefitting the Matthew and Andrew Akin Foundation. The proceeds from that evening would be donated to HLH research (the immune disorder that took both of the Akins' darling sons) and Be The Match / National Marrow Donor Program (which you've heard about from stories about my dad). Brian and my dad wanted to meet privately first, before being thrown onstage together in front of this large crowd; and a room was set aside a room for us all to meet. Now I should tell you that we managed to do a bit of internet stalking of Brian prior to Saturday night, so we knew what he and his family looked like. Of course, they arrived before my dad and Bonnie, so we had to act nonchalant as they arrived.
Minutes later, although it seemed like hours if you ask Jessie, Bonnie and my dad arrived and we headed back to meet the family. As you can imagine of someone who would do this for a stranger, Brian is awesome. He and his family are kind, generous, fun, easy-going, beautiful people. His parents were there, as well as his wife Kathy's - and they are just as great! We complimented them on their stem cells and awesome children and grand-children. We took a lot of pictures, and exchanged a lot of hugs.
From there, the trivia night began, and after the fourth round was the 'big reveal' of my dad and Brian. Jeff from Be The Match gave an awesome presentation, highlighting how Be The Match is a beautiful example of strangers Paying it Forward. Saving the lives of those they do not even know. He brought my dad up on stage and talked about how a perfect stranger had saved his life.
It was six years prior, that a friend of a friend of a friend asked Brian (my dad's donor) to join the National Bone Marrow Donor registry. At that time, they were looking for a donor for Matthew Pearl - both he and his sister were in need of bone marrow donors. Brian was not a match for Matthew, but someone else was. Matthew underwent a successful transplant and is doing well today. They brought Matthew up on stage to a standing ovation.
Then came the story of my dad and his MDS diagnosis. The only treatment for MDS is a stem cell transplant. The odds of a sibling match are 25%. Well, being number 11 of 12 children, we thought the odds were with us to find a match within the family. But, it wasn't to be. And we turned to the registry for help. In the meantime, we had a donor drive, registering upward of 120 new potential donors. And the search was on for a match for my dad - and Brian was contacted.
It had been six years since he joined the registry. When you join, there is a 1 in 540 chance that you'll be called to donate . When Brian was contacted, he agreed to undergo the testing. Although he wasn't a perfect match, the doctor's knew they could work with the stem cells and had hope. Brian underwent several tests and then had to wait for my dad's health to stabilize before a date for the transplant was set. Brian got shots to release his stem cells from his bone marrow into his blood stream. It gave him aches in his bones and some headaches. Then on January 16th, his stem cells were collected and delivered to my dad's hospital room where they saved my dad's life. Brian was called up on stage to another standing ovation.
Shortly after my dad's transplant, two donors who registered at my dad's drive got calls from Be The Match. Kyle, who lives literally next door to my dad, was called to save a life, as was Will, who lives about 3 houses down from my dad! Both Kyle and Will underwent the same testing as Brian and became stem cell donors themselves. Their recipients are still doing well and they are approaching their one year anniversaries. Kyle and Will got called up on stage. Another standing ovation!
Just this past Thursday, Bonnie got a message that she too might be a match for someone. And another woman who had also registered at the drive for Matthew got a call as well. When you see all of that good, all of that paying it forward, all of that strangers saving the lives of strangers... well, it does your soul good.
You know, on January 16th while we waited for those cells, we wondered where they were coming from. We knew that the donor was male and 42 years old. That's it. We thought they were coming by plane - being flown in just for my dad. Turns out? Brian was literally, down the street donating those cells. They came all the way from SLU hospital to BJC! As far as they know, never in the history of the Be the Match program have a donor and recipient lived in the same city! Brian and my dad are the first! Although, in all honesty, both wished the other lived in a warm climate for visiting purposes.
January 16th, 2013, we gained a hero. A stranger kind enough and willing to save our dad's life. We loved him before we knew him. We prayed for his health and strength and that of his family. We wished him well and thought of him frequently during this past year. Then this Saturday night, we extended our family. Welcoming Brian, Kathy and their kids into our family and into our hearts. Words will never be enough to thank Brian for the gift he gave us. But we'll try our hardest to find the right ones.