Sometimes the worst things in life can turn up gifts that far outlast the trial. That’s what Jim Miller tells people.
The Red Lion man was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome—a pre-leukemic syndrome—in October 2012 and given the choice of a stem cell transplant or other treatment alternatives that may have resulted in about two more years of life. He chose the transplant.
Although the wait for a match lasted a year—during which time chemotherapy and 27 blood transfusions achieved partial control of the disease—Miller never expected his donor would hail from across the globe.
In Otterberg, Germany, Stefan Eichert signed up to be a bone marrow donor in 2006 because helping other people is something he’s done since he became a volunteer firefighter at age 17.
“It’s only a small step for me,” said the husband and father of two children, who is a machine operator by trade and a volunteer firefighter and EMT. “The bigger problem is for the patient.”
The successful transplantation of stem cells from one man in Germany to another 3,800 miles away took place at Penn State Cancer Institute in September 2013.
Last December, the two men met, and Miller was able to personally thank the hero who saved his life.
“Stefan has saved many lives as an EMT, but he said I’m the first person who ever thanked him—and I flew across the world to do it,” said Miller, who jokes that he isn’t really 73 but only 49—the same age as Eichert, whose DNA he now shares.
“I have never met a person who lives only because of me. In the fire department, we save lives—out of a crashed car or a burning house—but it’s teamwork, all together. Jim lives with my stem cells, my blood,” said Eichert, who didn’t answer Miller’s initial email outreach attempts because “the emotion was just too great.”
A stem cell, or bone marrow, transplant is a lifesaving treatment for cancer patients that replaces unhealthy marrow with healthy marrow, which makes blood cells, including white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.
The Cancer Institute, which offers the only stem cell transplantation available in central Pennsylvania, has performed more than 2,000 such transplants since 1996 when Dr. Witold Rybka established the program here.
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