The story of Marcus and Matene is not your average love story. This perfect pair was brought together when Matene saved Marcus’s life after donating her bone marrow on a whim.

At 20 years old in 2016, Marcus Cato was a student who loved baseball and planned on studying business at Fresno State University. He was young and carefree — the only things he was really concerned about were his grades and his plans for the summer. When Marcus went in for his annual blood test, he waited for the results without expecting anything other than positive news.

However, when the nurse came in to deliver the blood results, she told him that he had unfortunately been diagnosed with myeloid leukemia, a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow. His chances of surviving without a bone marrow transplant were slim to none.

Finding a match

Though they were total strangers until that night, they were always intimately connected as her donation had saved his life.

It is more likely for a patient-donor match to occur between individuals with the same ancestry, which was an issue for Marcus as someone of both African American and Caucasian descent. The human leukocyte antigens (HLA), the gene complex needed for a successful bone marrow transplant, in African Americans is also particularly difficult to match. Finding someone with the same HLA as Marcus would present a huge challenge.

Shocked and in despair, Marcus’ parents felt hopeless. There was nothing they could do for him, and his fate lay in the hands of a stranger. Unbeknownst to him, his other half was already waiting for him on the other side of the country.

An unlikely source of hope

In 2010, 22-year-old Matene Cates was visiting a friend at the University of Massachusetts where a DKMS registration drive being held. On a whim, Matene decided to register to be a bone marrow donor, hoping one day she could help someone in need.

Six years later, her day came. Matene was at work as a nurse in Massachusetts when she saw a missed call from a number she didn’t recognize. Listening to her voicemail, Matene immediately felt butterflies in her stomach. She had received a call notifying her that she was a lifesaving match for someone in need.

Though at the time she only knew the patient’s gender, age, and diagnosis, she felt he revealed to her the reason why she exists — to “help people,” so that they can “keep living and loving.”

UNBREAKABLE BOND: After the transplane took place, Marcus and Matene finally got to meet face to face at the annual DKMA gala, where their powerfully intimate connection was solidified. 

After the transplant was done and Marcus received Matene’s bone marrow, they were able to communicate anonymously. Matene sums up her feelings by saying, “I love him. We have a connection that can never be duplicated because he has a piece of me, literally and figuratively.”

A little over a year and a half post-transplant, Marcus and Matene met for the first time at the annual DKMS gala. The gift Matene gave to Marcus was more than words; it was an action born of love. Though they were total strangers until that night, they were always intimately connected as her donation had saved his life.