“Miracle marrow” saves young girl’s life One night in 1995, Robert Benz and his wife, Petra, sat in their home in the southern German town of Neumarkt, talking about a story they had seen on the news that evening. A young man in their area was battling leukemia and desperately needed a bone marrow donor. The couple decided they would both go and register as potential donors. Although neither turned out to be a match for the patient, Robert and Petra were glad they had at least tried to help someone in need. And with their names on the national donor registry, maybe they would be able to help someone else instead, some time in the future.
|Ten-year-old Kennedy Kraus has a bright future again because Robert Benz (pictured above) volunteered to be a bone marrow donor years before Kennedy was born.|
Ten years later and thousands of miles away in Carlsbad, California, Gary and Terri Kraus were worried. Their 8-year-old daughter Kennedy had always been an energetic soccer player. But now she was bruising more easily, and her bruises were taking longer to heal.
Kennedy’s pediatrician ordered blood tests. That same night, he called Gary and Terri and told them to take Kennedy to the hospital immediately.
“That’s when the whole whirlwind started,” Terri recalls.
Within weeks, Kennedy was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia. In the most common form of anemia, patients have fewer red blood cells than normal. In the much rarer aplastic anemia, however, all blood cell counts were below normal — red, white and platelets alike. Untreated, aplastic anemia is often fatal.
Kennedy’s doctors had to act quickly. Treating aplastic anemia requires a hematopoietic cell transplant, or HCT. They added her name to the waiting list for the national marrow donor registry (now called “Be the Match”). And they sent Kennedy to one of the world’s leading HCT centers, City of Hope.
Help comes from 9,000 miles away
In 2007, Robert Benz received an unexpected phone call: Twelve years prior, he had volunteered to be a marrow donor. Now, tests showed his tissue was a match for a little girl in California who desperately needed a transplant. Was he still willing to be a donor?
Without hesitation, Robert said yes. He traveled to a hospital in nearby Nuremburg, Germany for the extraction procedure. His donated cells were then immediately flown to City of Hope and transplanted into Kennedy Kraus.
Nervous days followed as Gary, Terri, Kennedy’s brother Cole, and their City of Hope team waited to see if Kennedy’s body would accept the new cells. In fact, Kennedy began recovering so quickly, Terri declared the anonymous donor must have “miracle marrow”!
Terri was also impressed, she says, with how the City of Hope staff kept Kennedy comforted and entertained during her recovery, caring for her as if she was their own child.
Today, Kennedy is once again a healthy, active child, with a love for soccer, karate and horses. She has learned she shares this passion for horses with her donor’s own teenage daughter.
For his part, Robert, an engineer, explains that he entered his profession to build things that last. But his proudest achievement, he says, is helping Kennedy build the foundation for a bright, promising future.
Last May, Robert and his family flew 9,000 miles from Bavaria to Los Angeles to attend City of Hope’s “Celebration of Life” reunion. The annual event brings together HCT survivors, their families and their donors for a huge “birthday party.”
There, for the first time, Kennedy and Robert met, and she was able to thank him for his gift of life.
“To know someone’s life was saved by my donation is the best feeling one can have,” he says. “I am so overjoyed to have been chosen for this.”
For more information on the Be the Match Registry and how you can sign up to be a potential lifesaver like Robert Benz, go to www.cityofhope.org and click on “Giving,” then “How to Help.” Or enter “transfusion center” in the search box.
City of Hope is one of the world’s largest and most successful HCT centers. Thanks to you, we have performed more than 9,300 transplants, with more happening every year.
Kennedy Kraus is alive today because of the support friends like you give to City of Hope. Please use the enclosed reply form to give another gift today. Thank you.