Cancer Survivor Meets Her Bone-Marrow Donor for First Time on ‘GMA’

By ABC News

Aug 22, 2012 8:12am

ABC News’ Brian O’Keefe reports:

Erika Turner’s life as a happily married mother of two came to a screeching halt when her doctors told her she had leukemia.

“I looked at him and I said, ‘Cancer of the blood?’ and he said, ‘Correct,’” Turner said.

Her condition worsened.  Dr. Miguel Islas-Ohlmayer of The Jewish Hospital-Mercy Health Blood and Marrow Transplant Center in Cincinnati, where Turner was being treated, said the leukemia was aggressive.

Even with chemotherapy and radiation, the Cincinnati woman, 42, would need a bone marrow transplant.

“That was my only option to survive,” she said.

Click HERE to find out more about blood marrow donation and sign up for a registration kit from the Be the Match Registry.

Despite her dire circumstances, Turner was an inspiration to her medical team.

“She was filled with hope,” said Karen Sovern, a bone marrow nurse who cared for Turner. “She was filled with joy. She was filled with love, and it helped carry everybody who was taking care of her through.”

Turner’s situation meant she had a tough battle, and it would be even harder for her because she is African-American. For African-Americans and other people of color, it’s harder to find a bone marrow match.

“The likelihood of finding an African-American patient a donor is 60 percent,” Islas said. “[It's] a little bit higher for Hispanics, it’s about 70 percent, and for Caucasians it’s in the realm of 90 percent.”

Turner waited for weeks, and she got worse.

Then, she got the news that changed her life: A perfect match had been found.

“It was a male and he was a senior in college, and that’s all I knew,” she said, speaking of her donor.

But when the time came to make the final preparations for her transplant, Turner was about to give up.

“I was burned out. I was tired, I didn’t want to go.  I fussed,  I fought, I screamed. My husband said, ‘Get back in bed, we’ll just watch you die,’” she said. “I jumped up. I said, ‘I’m going to die. Ha! I’m going to show you.’”

The transplant worked, and soon Turner was in remission.

But her journey wasn’t complete. She hadn’t met her donor.

“I’ve never seen him.  I’ve never heard his voice,” she said, “but I’m just so excited to look into his eyes, to look into his soul, and tell him, ‘Thank you.’

“I just want him to know he is my hero,” she said.

Turner got the chance to meet her donor, Christopher Magoon, for the first time today on “Good Morning America.”

“Christopher, I just want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart with my whole soul and my whole being,” Turner said.  “Thank you for giving me back to my parents.  Thank you for giving me back to my kids and to my husband.  I love you and there’s nothing in this world that I would not do for you because you did it for me.  I love you.  I love you.”

Magoon was a student at Yale University when he joined the Be The Match Registry® to see whether he was a match for Mandi Schwartz, a fellow student and hockey player at Yale.  Magoon was not a match and Schwartz later died. But one year after having his cheek swabbed, Magoon got the call that he was a match for Turner.

“I’d do it again in a second,” he said of being a donor.  “It’s really not that painful of a procedure. That’s one of the huge myths.  Trust me, it’s really not that bad.  It’s like getting your wisdom teeth out. You’re under. You wake up. People take care of you because they know you’re doing a good thing.”

Turner was overcome with emotion thanking Magoon for what he did.

“This young man, he didn’t know me from a can of paint. He didn’t know me. He was so willing,” she said.  “I just can’t find the words. He was just so willing to give his life so that I can find mine.”

Magoon, who had communicated with Turner via email and Facebook while he was overseas in China teaching English, told Turner that he had the easy part of the transplant equation.

“You’re the one who fought for your family,” he said.  “I was asleep for the whole thing.  I got to watch TV for two days.  You’re the one who was sick and always believed that you were going to get better.  You did, and now you can provide hope for people in similar situations across the country.”

Signing up for the registry is the most important thing anyone can do, Magoon said.

“Even if you don’t know anyone who is sick, you might later down the line,” he said.  “Get on the registry.  Go to Bethematch.com and get the cheek swab. It’s a simple procedure to get on the registry.  That’s the first step.”

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