For Jessica Pepin, the decision to become a stem cell donor was personal.
Her stepfather went through a tough battle with blood cancer. Thanks to a bone marrow donation from a generous stranger, he was able to beat the disease and move on with his life. This selfless act inspired Jessica to join the 10 million registered donors on the DKMS registry.
Within one month of signing up, she received a life-changing phone call. A 4-year-old boy in Philadelphia needed stem cells, and she was a match!
Nicholas was born with anemia, which threatened his life every day. He was just 6 weeks old when he went to the hospital for the first of many blood transfusions.
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By the time his parents made the difficult decision to give him a stem cell transplant, he was going to the hospital every three weeks for eight hours of treatment at a time.
While Nicholas could live without a stem cell transplant, his frequent trips to the hospital took a toll on his whole family. Doctors told them that 95 percent of people who receive a transplant will be completely cured. Unfortunately, there are risks involved as well.
“Ninety-five percent is great odds, but anytime you hear there’s a 5 percent chance you could lose your son, it’s pretty scary,” his mom Catherina explained.
They sought second and third medical opinions, but it wasn’t until Nicholas told them he wanted the treatment that the choice became clear. In a heartbreaking conversation with his mother, Nicholas asked if he would need blood transfusions in heaven if he were to die. When Catherina told him no, he said he would rather be there than have to keep going to the hospital. That sealed the deal.
Soon, Nicholas received a tiny amount of Jessica’s donated cells — and it turned his life around! “One quarter of a cup of her stem cells was all it took to cure my son,” Catherina said later.
These days, Nicholas is a healthy, active 5-year-old whose frequent trips to the hospital are a thing of the past. His family was recently able to meet the person who changed everything for him via video conference, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house!
“How can I begin to thank someone who donated stem cells to cure our then 4-year-old son?” Catherina read from a statement she prepared for Jessica. “A simple thank-you doesn’t seem adequate. It’s hard to describe the life-changing impact your selfless act has had on our son and family.”
“Nicholas is going to grow up to live a normal life and I don’t think we can ever repay you enough,” she continued. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts and we love you.”
As for Jessica, she said she has no regrets about choosing to be a donor. Even better, she feels like she and Nicholas’ family are joined together forever! She’s also grateful to her stepdad’s donor, who saved his life and gave her the idea to help Nicholas in the same way.
“It was just the most incredible kind of full circle thing,” she said. “To have a beautiful stranger give him the gift of life, and our whole family that gift, to be able to give it to someone else is amazing.”
Share this story to thank Jessica for the selfless donation that cured this sweet little boy.
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