The Nashville Predators hockey team welcomed another Gift of Life Marrow Registry donor and recipient to their arena to meet each other for the first time. On April 9, 2022, during their Hockey Fights Cancer game versus the Florida Panthers, blood stem cell donor Emily Haseltine and her transplant recipient Elizabeth Wood engaged in a tearful embrace during a break in the action. The two women had never met, and did not know each other’s identities, as stem cell transplants in the United States must remain anonymous for the first year.
Elizabeth, a 59-year-old resident of Knoxville, Tenn., had been battling Acute Myeloid Leukemia since June 2020 when it was discovered that a bout of pneumonia would not respond to antibiotics. After a blood test she was sent to the emergency room for an immediate infusion of red blood cells and was quickly diagnosed with leukemia. Her best hope for survival was a transplant, but without a match in her family, her doctors turned to the registry to find an unrelated, matching donor.
“I had no future, I had no hope, and then I got a miracle because the match with Emily was so perfect,” said Elizabeth. “I had a very short window of time when I could receive a transplant. What Emily did changed me and changed my entire family.”
When Emily, a 38-year-old IT Secretary for the Akron Ohio Public Schools, joined Gift of Life Marrow Registry as a volunteer stem cell donor in 2017, she hoped her cheek swabs would reveal that she was a match for her father who at that time was battling Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia.
“In my head I thought if I signed up with Gift of Life, maybe the good karma would bring him the donor he needed, or maybe he and I would even be a match,” said Emily. Children are typically a 50% match for each of their parents, due to the way matching factors are inherited. “Luckily he didn’t need a donor and he’s good now, he’s been in remission for a couple of years.”
“I knew that my entire future hinged upon a person being willing to donate to me – without a successful transplant, I had less than a year to live,” said Elizabeth.
After Emily was found as Elizabeth’s match in October 2020, things went quickly. Her stem cell collection day was set in December 2020. Initially doctors thought a second infusion of white blood cells from Emily might be needed in January, but Elizabeth’s recovery was so strong that it wasn’t necessary.
Elizabeth’s gratitude to Emily is not only for herself, but also for her entire family.
“My diagnosis came after my last daughter graduated from high school and I was in treatment as she was entering college,” said Elizabeth. “After homeschooling for 24 years, it seemed my work was done, and I did wonder if I had any future at all. Now, we have added a son-in-law, a grandson, and a grand-dog to our family, and I am studying to become a realtor. Every day is a gift, and I want to make the most of them.”
Emily is also emotional about her donation, and her new relationship with Elizabeth.
“How often do you get a chance to help someone beat cancer?” she said. “Do this for all the people you’ve lost to cancer, and to prevent someone else from going through the same pain.”
Thank you to the Nashville Predators for sponsoring this incredible introduction, and for helping Gift of Life spread the word about our lifesaving mission. To read about other Gift of Life donors and recipients who met thanks to the Nashville Predators, click the links below:
Above left: Bone Marrow donor Tony met his recipient Brianne. Read the story
Above right: Bone marrow Donor Cody met his recipient Randall. Read the story