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home : news : news August 23, 2017

5/25/2017 1:35:00 PM
Donor, recipient share unbreakable bond and maybe an ancestor or two
Clockwise, from top left-- Charlie and wife Jean, their son Danny and donor Cheryl Ryan... celebrating a 25 year milestone after a bone marrow donation that defied the odds.
Clockwise, from top left-- Charlie and wife Jean, their son Danny and donor Cheryl Ryan... celebrating a 25 year milestone after a bone marrow donation that defied the odds.

There is a family on the East Coast, who welcomed their baby boy into the world 26 years ago.  Around this same time a single parent, living in Lindstrom, was raising her two sons working “typing on a computer” in a government office.  This mom, Cheryl Ryan,  also was a longtime blood donor.  The way she tells the story she noticed a flyer while giving blood,  in the early 1990s, that was promoting a new thing, bone marrow transplants.  

Ryan had her bone marrow data placed in a Red Cross-run registry,  just because it’s a good thing to do.  She wasn’t involved in the medical profession, she didn’t have relatives affected by a bone marrow-related disease, and had never known anybody who even needed bone marrow.
Fast forward about a year,  and Ryan receives notice that her bone marrow is tagged as a match for a baby on the East Coast, who has acute myeloid leukemia.

The child’s parents have been in a desperate scramble. Many prestigious institutions advised that their boy, Danny, wouldn’t make it and turned down their request.  

Jean and Charlie Colbert were dogged in pursuing treatment, though.  A plea for donors collects and tests 1,600 samples to no avail.  The Colberts speak succinctly, but emotionally, of how they flew back and forth between coasts following up with a total  of 27 medical centers, hoping for some optimism for their son, Danny.

Finally, the University of Minnesota (Dr Woods, now in Atlanta, Georgia) agrees to provide a team to do the bone marrow transplant procedure.  Ryan lives less than an hour away from the U.

There are many amazing components to this story;  but the real wow factor is Cheryl Ryan’s bone marrow DNA analysis shows she is the equivalent of an identical twin donor.

Danny has only half-siblings from his dad’s first marriage and neither his mom Jean nor his dad Charlie sufficiently match.

So, how can it be that the bone marrow of a native of the Midwest is nearly an exact match for a male infant,  whose families are from Maine and Massachusetts?

That’s one question that Cheryl Ryan and Danny Colbert still contemplate whenever they get together. And, they were still talking about it last weekend.  

 Danny, his mom and dad, and family friends ended up at a 25 year transplant anniversary celebration where Cheryl, husband Pat, live in Center City.  

The party was rockin’ in the Ryan’s attached garage,  as spears of rain stabbed the ground and plans for a pontoon boat ride on North Center Lake dissolved before your very eyes.

Danny spoke with a reporter seated at the kitchen table, with scrapbooks scattered in a crooked pile.  

Danny is by no means a fatalist,  but like most people who have cheated death, he does have a bucket list.  Currently employed by an international contractor that specializes in airport and bridge projects,  he enjoys getting to travel the world.

So what happens if he checks everything off that’s on the list?  “I will go back through it again,” he quips.  
 
It was Danny’s mom Jean who first contacted Cheryl on Thanksgiving Day, many months after the bone marrow was successfully regenerating and was not going to be rejected by Danny’s body.  The agency requires a year’s waiting period after a transplant and then the donor and recipient get private information.

The Colberts called Cheryl on Thanksgiving because, as Jean explains, it was a perfect time to express their gratitude.  They invited Cheryl and her two sons to make plans to visit Danny in the Boston area the following spring, which they did.   

Jean had a feeling this would be a lifelong bond, “...(Cheryl)  had a third son but didn’t even know it, yet.”

Cheryl also surprised Danny by showing up for his high school graduation.

Danny was so young during all the transplant trauma and he says he remembers nothing about being ill or the bone marrow transplant itself.  He learned to walk in the hospital after the transplant.

His mom recalls the recovery as remarkable.  

The Colberts were advised to plan on literally living at the hospital for months,  in case the reactivated marrow system didn’t kick in, but within 90 days Danny was up and around like a regular patient.

Cheryl says it was all kind of a blur.  “I knew nothing about bone marrow transplants.   I know I took the day off from work.  They put me under so it didn’t hurt at all.  I had an incision about this big,” (she holds her thumb and forefinger apart about two inches.)

She laughs, remembering arriving at the airport in Boston for the procedure,  and seeing television cameras-- wondering which celebrity was causing all the commotion, and it turned out the local channels were there for her.
 
While in junior high school, in 2004,  Danny’s damaged heart (from lack of growth while he battled the leukemia) was replaced.  The Colberts reached out to the donor’s next-of-kin but haven’t gotten a response.  They are okay with this.

The transplant heart was from a woman who died very close-by Danny’s hospital in Massachusetts, and being the recipient of such a speedy transplant was a miracle, his parents point out.  

And, they oughtta know a miracle when they see one.

If you're interested in learning more about bone marrow donation, go to bethematch.org.






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