It’s not every day that you meet your superhero. But that’s what happened when six-year-old Jordan Ramos and his mother logged into Zoom a few months ago. He wanted to thank his real life superhero, Jason Martinez, a once-stranger who donated bone marrow to save the boy’s life.
When the two connected virtually, it was the first time they had ever seen each other. But their story – and forever bond – started two years ago.
Life changing event
Jordan first got sick in January, 2018. He was very pale, dizzy, wouldn’t eat and had chronic nausea. Doctors diagnosed him with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), an aggressive form of blood cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation didn’t work.
“He was very ill,” says his Spanish-speaking mother, Wanda Ayala, through a translator. “The doctors didn’t know if he was going to live or not.”
Jordan needed a bone marrow transplant. While his mother and two older brothers were tested, they weren’t matches. A family match would have been ideal, especially since Jordan is Puerto Rican and patients have a better chance of finding a match with someone who shares their own ethnic background. The likelihood of finding a Hispanic donor on the national Be the Match registry is only 46%, compared to 77% chance for someone who is white.
It took three months to find a match. That donor was Martinez, who’s Puerto Rican.
“I knew it would be a life changing event for me,” says the now 42-years-old, who’s an attorney in Southern California.
Twelve years earlier, he’d signed up for the Be the Match registry when a coworker hosted a Be The Match at work. He wasn’t a match then and forgot about it until he received a call asking him if he would be willing to donate bone marrow to a young boy in need. It felt right to help.
“There was this something that was incredibly powerful about that idea, that I can have a part in saving some kid’s life,” he says.
Today, Martinez is acutely aware of the power bone marrow transplants provide to those in need. He has a six-month-old daughter and gets choked up thinking about if something were to happen to her. He considers himself a private person and when his wife shared his donation story on Facebook, the feedback was overwhelming.
“I remember I was just overcome with emotion, I don’t think I’d ever cried that much,” he says. “It was just a joyful cry.”
Jordan received his transplant on October 19, 2018. Overtime, he grew stronger. These days, he’s a healthy first-grader who loves football and cars, as well as dancing, singing and playing.
His mother appreciates Be the Match for finding Jordan’s donor and for moving so quickly. The experience was emotional for the family.
“But I am a person of great faith and I always believe a lot in God and I know everything was going to be fine, and now it’s going better,” she says.
Due to donation guidelines, Jordan and Jason weren’t allowed to communicate for a year. Once that year was up, the families talked and then met virtually. Now they’re very close.
“I owe my son’s life to him,” says Ayala. “His family, we talk every day. Every day Jason and his wife ask about my son. They love Jordan, they love him very much.”
Martinez says, “We have this special sort of bond. I anticipate always being in each other’s lives in some capacity because we’ll always share this experience together.”