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8-year-old Jordan Jemsek meets blood marrow donor

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How do you thank a stranger who gave your child a second chance at life?

“There is no price on that,” Kay Jemsek said. “What she did was amazing, and to do it at such a young age. She will always be a part of our family.”

Saturday afternoon, Jemsek opened her door – and her heart – to 22-year-old Louise Hindal who two years earlier donated bone marrow to help save little Jordan Jemsek’s life. Jordan, now 8, was suffering from a recurrence of acute myeloid leukemia and doctors said the transplant was her only chance for survival.

When the Jemseks’ doorbell rang Saturday, Kay and Jordan rushed to the front of the house. “She’s here!” Kay exclaimed and welcomed Hindal with hugs and tears. Then Hindal and Jordan spent a few minutes on the sofa getting acquainted as they traded stories about hair styles, zip lines and poetry.

“I’m so excited,” Hindal said about meeting Jordan.

Hindal didn’t know until a week ago that Jordan was the recipient of her bone marrow. But she suspected it because of stories in the Observer, and for over two years she followed Jordan’s progress on caringbridge.org.

A 2012 graduate of Harvard, Hindal teaches pre-calculus at Philip O’Berry Academy of Technology in Charlotte as part of the Teach for America program. Her parents are Mark and Elizabeth Hindal.

She volunteered to be a bone marrow donor while working at the 24 Hours of Booty cancer fundraiser about four years ago. All day long, she said, she heard recruiters give their spiel about donating bone marrow. So she decided to “get swabbed” – a simple procedure in which cells inside a person’s cheeks are collected on a cotton swab and their tissue-type entered in a registry.

“Two and a half years ago, I got this phone call out of the blue,” Hindal said. “I think there are 10 markers that are supposed to match. I matched (with Jordan) on nine of them.”

On March 17, 2011, doctors at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem extracted cells from Hindal’s pelvic bone. The next day, doctors at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington transplanted Hindal’s healthy cells into Jordan.

“I was achy for a couple of days,” Hindal said. “In the scheme of things, if I can be achy for a couple of days and save a life, that’s totally worth it.”

An ‘amazing’ recovery

Within a week of the transplant, Jordan’s white blood cell count was recovering. She had her two year follow-up medical appointment in April and is still in remission.

“She’s doing amazing,” Kay Jemsek said.

After spending nearly 11 months hospitalized because of cancer, Jordan relishes little things other children might complain about, like getting up to go to school even when she’s feeling tired. After having no hair for so long because of chemotherapy, she refuses to get hers cut now that it’s grown out past her shoulders.

She plays lacrosse, sings in the choir at Sharon Elementary School and is a member of a Brownie scout troop. This summer, she gets to go away to two sleepover camps. All she’s ever wanted, her mother said, is to do what other kids do.

“I want for people to know that a bone marrow transplant works,” Jemsek said. “This is how it can happen.”

And not just for Jordan.

At a bone marrow drive held in Jordan’s honor in Charlotte in 2011, 768 people added their names to a national registry. According to the nonprofit Delete Blood Cancer DKMS, four of those volunteers have since become donors to other patients in need.

Leland: 704-358-5074
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