“I feel like I’ve won the lottery.” Tara meets her recipient, Stewart

Tara-and-familyV2-203pxAs a Philadelphia medical student diligently working through her residency, 2004 was a busy year for Tara. Despite her workload, Tara made the choice to not only help people professionally but also personally when she joined the Be The Match Registry® while attending a donor drive at her husband’s office.

In October, Tara got the call that she was a potential match for a patient in need of a marrow transplant.  She had no idea her upcoming bone marrow donation would be the start of a lifelong connection that now, nearly a decade later, has permanently intertwined her life with her recipient.

Looking back on hearing the news, Tara said both she and her husband greeted the news with joy. “When I found out I was a potential match, I was training to be a physician to save lives,” she said, “who knew I would literally get to do it with part of me.”

In December of that same year, Tara’s recipient, Stewart, received his life-saving bone marrow transplant at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Shortly after, Stewart relapsed and Tara donated lymphocytes to help save Stewart’s life.

After receiving Tara’s lymphocytes, Stewart began on his road to recovery and the two began exchanging monthly letters. Tara discovered that while he received his transplant in Houston, Stewart and his family were from Kona, Hawaii.

On the one year transplant anniversary, Tara said she and Stewart found a special way to mark the occasion. “We spoke exactly one year after I donated when I received a box of macadamia nuts from Hawaii,” she said. “I told him I was pregnant with our first baby.”

As the connection between the two families grew, Tara said the momentum of daily life kept them from meeting for many years. “He invited us to Hawaii yearly but, I was a busy resident with a new baby, then opened my own dermatology practice and had another baby,” Tara said.

Tara and Stewart continued writing and talking on the phone until 2011 when a family tragedy caused Tara to fully see the importance of their connection. “My own father was diagnosed with cancer and had an autologous bone marrow transplant that was unsuccessful,” she said. “He died in 2011, three weeks after I gave birth to my third child. I have never been so sad in all my life as when I lost my dad.”

While Tara turned to her family to help her grieve the loss of her father, she said her thoughts always returned to her connection with Stewart.  “My new baby and my kids were my reason to go on but, meeting Stewart was literally the only thing I could think of that might make me feel better,” she said. “I did not want to regret not ever meeting him.”

Tara finally got her wish on June 11, 2013 when she and her family were met with smiles, warm embraces and of course floral leis from Stewart and his family at the Kona International Airport in Hawaii.

The experience left a profound effect on Tara and her family. “I feel like I won the lottery. Most people who are on the list don’t get the opportunity to get the call and save someone’s life,” she said. “I can’t think of a greater miracle than this.”

15 Responses to ““I feel like I’ve won the lottery.” Tara meets her recipient, Stewart”

  1. Ellen Clark says:

    Tara I love your story and understand you feelings and emotions. My daughter received a bone marrow transplant in 2005 just before her 10th birthday. She had relapsed after 3 years of chemo and remission. There were no family matches so we had to turn to the registery. They found her a perfect match and from seconds into the transfusion she said Mommy I feel tingly and good all over, from that point on she has been thriving and Graduated high school last year.

    Every year on her transplant date we have a small celebration and think about the women who saved her life. Because of donor site rules we are not allowed to meet her and we struggle with that everyday. How we want to tell her how grateful we are for what she has done for our family.

    I love the stories of the meetings with the donors, there is no grater gift you give a person than life. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being a donor.

    Sincerely, Ellen

    • Richard Shoemake says:

      Ellen, how blessed you and your daughter are! I donated bone marrow in February of 2005 and felt truly honored to have been able. Again, because of the donor rules, I had no knowledge of whether the patient was successful in recovering or not. It warms my heart and brings me comfort to know that your family was helped through the donation process.

      Your story is truly an encouragement for all of the donors out there.

      Blessed as well, Richard

  2. Tara, I am a registered donor as well. I love your story. I feel as though they should allow the receiving family to meet if both are wanting to participate. Somehow, this should be questioned by both sides and changed if possible to accommodate them. I believe I would feel the same and wonder who that person was I donated to, how they were doing, wanting to send well wishes, etc. In turn, God forbid I ever need to receive, I would want to thank them them for the gift. There has to be some governing party over this and I feel as the times have changed they need to move with the times as well.
    Thank you again for your story!

  3. Norm says:

    Wow. Just being contacted for a potential marrow match is a miracle!

  4. Diana Barcenas says:

    Hello Tara,
    I read your story sobbing, first because I do believe it’s a miracle we can help somebody this way, and also because I am about to be a donor as well. Fortunately for me I do know the person very well it is my sister, and it has been a long struggle but we think we might be finally ready to get her healthy. thanks for you story.
    Diana

  5. Tara!

    What a great article about this amazing journey of LIFE! Of course you know all too well about our family history with bone marrow need and donation.

    For all of you who may never meet the donor or recipient, trust there is a Higher Power at play for you all. We may never fully realize the impact that we have on the world and vice-versa. Receive and give with gratitude in your hearts and know it is for the highest good.

    Sending Thanks, Love and Blessings!

    Janine

  6. joe huet says:

    after receiving an unknown amount of blood(unconscious for more than seven-weeks, myself) i was soon to start donating as often as i could (now, i give plates’).
    i’m also on the bone marrow registry; i was going to give a kidney to a friend/co-worker but his niece stepped-up so i’m still waiting to be used somewhere.
    it changes you when you get that gift from someone you don’t know. if/when i do get the call, as long as i can, i’m in a “give back mode” kinda like on-call 2nd chance! they are in your pocket, but they’ll never work if you don’t give them away. doesn’t cost you a thing, so i can’t understand NOT passing along gifts. it sort of makes you richer, and healthier. i’ve signed the back of my license, so there no tellin’ how far i’ll go.

  7. Kimberly says:

    LOVE your story! I registered several years ago because a friend’s child needed a transplant and though I wasn’t a match for him, I am ready to give my gift to whomever may need it. I happened to see my donor card a few hours ago and wondered if I will ever get that chance…..oh what an honor it would be!

    My father died 6 years ago and know how lost you can feel. Congratulations on finally meeting! Life is short and you can never take things for granted. May your friendship continue to grow and may Stewart continue to have good health in the years to come.

  8. Nancy says:

    Tara,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I signed up to be a donor while my husband was stationed in Hawaii with the Army in 1996. I finally got a call that I was a potential match this past fall, 2013. It is so important to keep you information updated! After more tests, I WAS A MATCH :) I was so excited and ready for the journey, but unfortunately something on the other end was not working out. I am very hopeful that the stars will align and I will be able to continue on this wonderful journey. I am also happy for you that you got to go to Hawaii and meet Stewart.

  9. lagent says:

    Thanks for sharing your part of life.Hope your feeling to won the lottery become true.

  10. Sara says:

    Its amasage for evry donnar that got the cal and enjoyed the feeling of giving and for the others who are like me waiting for the cal to warm their hearts with the giving of the life for some body who needs it God bless ur hearts

  11. Claudia says:

    I joined Be the Match Registry when my first cousin needed a transplant in 2000. Unfortunately, she passed that same year from her sickness. At the end of her life she was happy knowing that her family and friends could possibly help save a life.

    After all of these I am still looking forward to receiving the call, that will help save a life.

  12. Tara Lindsay says:

    I love this…I’m also named Tara, and also a donor who met her recipient, AND the daughter of leukemia (mother) and lymphoma (father) patients. I donated three times for my recipient (stem cells, t-cells, and then stem cells again). Although Erin, the recipient, passed away, I’m still friends with her mom, sisters, husband, and little girl. Such a powerful relationship!

  13. Lorraine Lupio says:

    My husband was a bone marrow recipient in April 2013. None of his family members were a match and we too had to turn to the back. Luckily we found a match from Germany. Although Mike, the recipient passed away and had the unnerving need to thank the donor. In November, he is coming to the states and we will meet and I and my family will be able to thank him for his unselfish act of becoming a donor! I cannot wait!

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