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Targeting Cancer: Patient saved by blood stem cell transplant meets donor

Targeting Cancer: Patient saved by blood stem cell transplant meets donor (Photo provided by Kelli Warner)

Every three minutes, an American is diagnosed with a form of blood cancer. Paul Leighton of Springfield realized he was part of that statistic in 2013, when he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, brought on by a disorder that prevents stem cells from maturing and accumulating in his bone marrow.

“I had a little bit of ‘Woe is me,’ and then I just began to think about my life and what I’ve had the privilege to experience. I mean, wow! Every day is an adventure,” Paul says.

Little did Paul know, he was about to face one of the biggest journeys of his life. After two rounds of powerful chemotherapy, his only hope was a peripheral blood stem cell transplant.

When Paul’s information was added to the international bone marrow donor registry, he was told that some patients never find a compatible donor—but Paul remained optimistic. Then, he received the call: a perfect match had been found.

A life-saving gift

Due to confidentiality policies, Paul knew very little about his donor initially—only that he was a 42-year-old man from Germany.

The two men were allowed to have anonymous contact during the first year after the transplant, which included sending cards and letters without revealing their identities. But they were eager to connect in person. Two years later, their identities were finally revealed and Paul and his family traveled to Fulda, Germany, to meet policeman Thomas Hering, a husband and father of three who registered as a donor 22 years before he was chosen as a match.

On a train platform, in front of reporters from German media outlets and a barrage of cameras, Paul finally met the man he credits for saving his life.

“I was not expected to be here three years ago,” Paul told reporters. “There was no hope. But through the donor registry, the wonders of medicine, and thanks to God, we were given a miracle.”

Paul now shares his story with anyone willing to listen, to raise awareness of the bone marrow registry and the need for donors.

“We need more people on that system,” Paul says. “We need people to know that they have the potential to save a life.”

Register to become a donor

There are two ways to potentially save a life: through peripheral blood stem cell or bone marrow donation. When you sign up, your tissue type is added to the registry, however, a donation is not made until a match is found.

Get more information about the donation process at bethematch.org or dkms.org. The more people who register to be donors, the greater the possibility that life-saving matches can be made.

“Every day I wake up is an absolute miracle,” Paul says. “Thomas is that miracle. No question.”

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