Stem cell recipient and donor meet to celebrate gift of life

Leah Mishkin, Correspondent | September 30, 2019 | Health Care

In the summer of 2016, grandmother Lael McGrath had her life forever changed by a leukemia diagnosis.

The news, which came as a shock to herself and her family, was made worse by her doctor Vimal Patel’s assessment that the cancer was aggressive and beyond chemotherapy. He made it abundantly clear that she needed a stem cell transplant.

Little did she know that in Kassel, Germany, 18-year-old Wiebke Rudolph had seen an advertisement for a “Be the Match” registry on Facebook and decided to volunteer as a potential blood stem cell donor.

A few months later, Rudolph received news herself – that she was a match with McGrath.

Patel, an oncologist with the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, says the odds of finding a match can be anywhere from 25 to 77%, and the transplant is a life-saving treatment. McGrath received her transplant in December 2016.

Last week, at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, McGrath was united with the young woman who saved her life.

“I always envisioned her being a beautiful person,” said McGarth. “All my dreams came true with that one.”

McGrath and Rudolph now consider each other family.

“Every four minutes someone else is diagnosed with a blood cancer, just like Lael McGrath,” said Patel. “So in a day, 360 people are being diagnosed and many people need chemotherapy and those people need stem cell transplants sometimes and not everyone is a match.”