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.”