Blood Brother, Blood Sister

1:25 AM, Feb 23, 2010   |    comments
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What do you say to the person that saved your life?

It's a question Scott Kleiman had wrestled with ever since he received bone marrow 18 months earlier from a perfect stranger.

Donating bone marrow is a daunting task that can save someone's life but is as invasive as donating an organ.

At least, that's how it used to be.

But Marietta's Courtney Shapiro discovered just how easy a modern bone marrow transplant can be for the donor. In the process, she saved the life of a man on the other side of the country.

"It boggles my mind how you can connect to someone," recalls Courtney today, "and how one person can change you."

In this case, the "one person" is Scott -- and he would certainly argue that Courtney changed him as much, if not more, than he changed her.

A resident of Pasadena, Calif., Scott was a successful father in his fifties who went in for a check-up one day and came out with a bombell: leukemia.

"You hear leukemia," says Scott, "and the first thing that came into my mind: death sentence."

The first years weren't so bad, but the following years were worse. Eventually Scott needed chemotherapy; when that passed, he would need a donation of bone marrow in order to survive.

"You go through a lot of thoughts like, 'I'm not ready to go yet; I can't leave my son without a father,'" Scott says.

"And, uh, you start making plans ... just in case."

In the meantime, a different search began: a search for a match. And somehow, that search led to Courtney.

A newly minted MBA from Kennesaw State, Courtney joined the bone marrow registry as an undergrad at Georgia Tech. It was a quick process, and it quickly became an afterthought -- until two years later, when she found she was Scott's perfect match -- the only one out of 13 million people on the registry.

She soon found that the process of donating bone marrow was nothing compared to what people typically think. Instead of invasive surgery into the hip bone, most donations today involve a hook-up similar to giving blood or platelets. It usually takes a few hours, and you're awake the whole time.

Courtney went through with it; Scott received the transplant; and he is now in complete remission.

"I want to put my arms around her and hug her and kiss her and tell her I love her," Scott said a day before he was scheduled to meet Courtney for the first time.

"And I want to say thank you, but that just seems so ridiculously insufficient."

When Courtney and Scott finally met, it was at the base of an escalator at Los Angeles International Airport, or LAX. For months they had written letters -- from the "blood brother" in LA and the "blood sister" in Atlanta.

But letters don't compare to a grateful embrace.

As Courtney and Scott gave each other an enormous hug, Scott said something that was elegant in its simplicity and sincerity: "I've been waiting for this a long time."

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