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Arkansas woman meets stem cell donor from Germany

An Arkansas woman recently faced with the challenge of needing a stem cell transplant has been given the opportunity to thank the stranger who helped save her life.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Anyone who has gone through a cancer diagnosis themselves or knows someone who has knows that it can be very daunting. No matter what type of cancer it is, or what age they receive a diagnosis, it’s something no one wants to have to go through.

Receiving that diagnosis can be especially difficult when your treatment relies on the assistance of a stranger. One Arkansas woman recently faced that challenge, and now she’s been given the opportunity to thank the stranger who helped save her life.

“A cancer diagnosis and cancer treatment are just like this looming fear of how close the inevitable really is to us,” said stem cell recipient, Madelyn Wright.

At just 22 years old, Wright was a single mom who had been fighting Acute Myeloid Leukemia with high-dose chemo. Which put her in remission, though, that wasn’t enough to keep the cancer at bay.

“It's a battle that is so deep within it's so much more than physical pain, it's so much more, it's just it's a lot," described Wright.

She explained that finding her perfect match for a stem cell transplant, was going to be like finding a needle in a haystack.

Little did she know that her perfect match would come from across the globe.

"The only information I had at that point was it was in the United States and it was a woman my age,” said Dominik Kowalski, a German soldier.

He had put himself on the donor registry and answered the call to serve a stranger.

“For that small act on my part, I've seen such a massive effect, that is really the feeling of doing something important. This is so rewarding,” added Kowalski.

Both Wright and Kowalski were soon to be brought together for the procedure which would be performed at the UAMS Cancer Center in Little Rock, the only hospital in the state that performs stem cell transplants.

"He was a 10 out of 10, what we call a 10 out of 10, full match for Maddie," explained UAMS Transplant Coordinator, Stacey Temple.

Temple also works with the “Be the Match” Foundation, and she added that though it’s unfortunate, Wright’s outcome is very rare.

She also stated that a white person might have around a 79% chance of finding a match, and those odds fall to 29% for anyone that has a more diverse ethnic background.

“That's heavy, that gap is huge. We need more donors,” said Temple.

Wright and Kowalski were able to have a full-circle moment this week when they met face to face at UAMS. Both expressed that this experience has given them a renewed purpose.

"I think that the girl I was before I was sick would be so proud of who I am now. I don't think I'm working towards the same things that she was working towards anymore. I think I have a deeper purpose,” said Wright.

If you’d like more information or are interested in signing up for the donor registry, please click here.

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