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How One Donation Has the Power to Save a Life

Photo: Courtesy of Cristina Pels

Cristina Pels knew something was wrong.  Her son, Liam, had a cough and fever that were getting worse. Strange lumps appeared all over his infant body. Emergency room visits were becoming more frequent, leaving the family with more questions than answers.

Fortunately, Liam was at the right place at the right time. Dr. Kiran Kumar Belani noticed similarities to a disease that her mentor had discovered, and she ordered a genetic test for Liam. It confirmed Belani’s suspicion that Liam had a rare immune disorder called Chronic Granulomatous disease, or GCD. GCD ruins the immune system and GI tract and leaves lumps, or granulomas, all over the body. It soon became clear: Liam needed a bone marrow transplant

“I knew it was the only cure,” Cristina said, “but I was so scared.”

They luckily found a perfect match for Liam, and pre-transplant preparations began. Then, at the last second, their donor backed out, leaving Cristina fearing for the worst.

Fortunately, through connections with blood cancer nonprofit DKMS, a match was found: Bud, a man in Chile. Bud quickly agreed to the transplant and, less than 24 hours later, his life-saving donation was hand-delivered to Liam’s team at Kansas City Children’s Mercy.

Two years later, the Pels recently celebrated Liam’s seventh birthday. They were even able to thank Bud personally during a virtual meeting.

“How do you say thank you to someone who saved your son’s life?” Pels wondered.

Fortunately, Liam was able to find the words: “Thank you for saving my life, Bud. I owe you big time.”

Every 27 seconds someone in the world is diagnosed with a blood cancer, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. Every 27 seconds, someone needs a donor. For Liam, Bud wasn’t just a name on a registry. He was a new lease on life.

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