Leukemia patient develops friendship with stem cell donor that saved her life

After she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at age 22, Lianne, a Dana-Farber patient who recently celebrated her 24th birthday, learned she would need a bone marrow transplant to save her life.

“I have three siblings so we were hopeful that I would have a match,” shares Lianne. “All of them volunteered to become a donor, but unfortunately none of them were a match and we had to turn to the national bank. We were fearful that it would take a while to find someone, but only a few weeks later we got a call. A 20-year-old male was a match and had agreed to donate his stem cells.”

Lianne spent just under a month in the hospital getting chemotherapy, receiving her donor’s stem cells, and rebuilding her immune system, followed by nine more months of isolation at her parents’ house. Lianne tried to stay busy and healthy, and she was even able to run two 5k races (with a mask and gloves of course)!

“Throughout the first year post-transplant, donors and recipients are required to remain anonymous,” Lianne continues. “I remember sitting on the couch, exactly a year out from the transplant, and getting the email that contained his name and information. It was so surreal to finally have a name and face for the person who saved my life. I think that’s when the reality of everything finally sunk in. He is the reason that I’m alive.”

Inspired by a speech he heard from a Be the Match representative, Miles, who is Lianne’s donor, decided to join the registry of bone marrow donors. “It seemed like the outcome of giving someone a second chance at life certainly outweighed any actions that I needed to take,” shares Miles. “In fact, it was one of the best experiences of my life. Now that we’ve hit the one-year mark, it has been amazing to be able to talk to Lianne directly and see how well she is doing. I realized that I helped someone that means a whole lot to a lot of people. Nothing that you do in life could be any more special than this.”

Lianne and Miles became fast friends and have made plans with help from Miles’s school, the University of South Carolina, for their families to meet each other in January.

Now healthy and happier than ever, Lianne just began her master’s degree in Exercise and Nutrition Science at the University of Tampa and is looking forward to being the maid of honor in her sister’s upcoming wedding. She has also set a goal to see as many of the Florida state parks as she can. She’s currently visited 30 of 174 and has hopes of seeing many, many more!

UPDATE, February 11, 2018: In January, the day had finally come, and Lianne and Miles were set to meet at center court during a USC basketball game broadcast on ESPN.

“We had been texting leading up to the day so in a way, it felt like I knew him. But as soon as I saw him, I just ran. Meeting such an important person in my life was like nothing else I will ever experience,” shares Lianne, who refers to Miles as her blood brother.

Lianne and Miles have talked about making it a yearly tradition for their families to meet up and stay in touch. “We’re all one big family now,” she says.

Meghan Summerson
Social Media Coordinator, Online Marketing