By Elizabeth Moscoso
ALEXANDRIA, VA – Wedding days are always special, but for Alexandria resident Sarah Aiken, tying the knot was exceptionally touching because of one particular guest.
In 2012, Aiken donated bone marrow to a stranger. The stranger happened to be little six-year-old Kinley Strohl from Delaware, OH, who had been battling blood cancer and needed a transplant to survive.
A year after the transplant was complete, Strohl’s mother connected with Aiken and shared the miraculous news that her daughter’s transplant was a success. The incredible uniqueness of each person’s DNA means that finding a matching donor is extremely rare. It’s no surprise that a strong connection was formed over the next seven years after the transplant. Aiken and Kinley kept in touch online, but they hadn’t met in person. Once Aiken got engaged though, she knew she needed Strohl by her side at her wedding.
“We were crying when she hugged me,” Strohl said. “It was like we’d met before. I have a bond with her no one else has.”
The now 14-year old Strohl flew in with her parents and older brother from Delaware, Ohio, for the wedding at Celebrations at the Bay in Pasadena, Md.
“[It’s as] if we’ve been best friends for years,” Aiken said. ““I believe everything happens for a reason. Things are meant to be and people are meant to meet. And our families are meant to be intertwined.”
Strohl spent time with Aiken’s bridesmaids the morning of the wedding, helped put on Aiken’s wedding shoes, and fixed her dress.
“Sarah saved my life,” said Kinley. “I feel special and honored to have received her bone marrow, especially when there are kids still fighting for their lives. She’s a loving, caring person and is like an older sister.”
Their incredible transplant story was recently covered in the New York Times, which reported it all started in 2009 when Aiken, now 31, was a senior studying nursing at the University of Pittsburgh. When she heard about a bone marrow drive on campus with DKMS, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to ending blood cancers and finding donors, Ms. Aiken volunteered to help run the drive and registered to be a donor.
“It takes only 30 seconds to swab your cheek,” said Aiken. “Knowing I’d be taking care of people with cancer, and seeing strangers signing up to help save people’s lives, made me want to do the same.”
Seventy percent of people suffering from leukemia, lymphoma and other blood cancers must rely on donors outside their families. It’s critical that organizations like DKMS have as many registered donors as possible to increase the likelihood of having a match.
If you want to register to be a potential lifesaver, you can request a swab kit online through DKMS at dkms.org.
DKMS is an international nonprofit organization, founded 28 years ago in Germany by Dr. Peter Harf when he lost his wife Mechtild to leukemia. Peter promised her that he would help every blood cancer patient find a matching donor. At that time, there were only 3,000 potential stem cell donors available to provide a transplant in Germany and within one year of founding DKMS, the number of stem cell donors increased to 68,000. Today, DKMS, which stands for “Deutsche KnochenMarkSpenderdatei” (in German) translates to “German Bone Marrow Donor File,” has registered over 9 million potential donors worldwide.