“I met the person who saved my child’s life.”
It was hard to believe that this meeting would ever happen. It’s very rare for someone who’s had a bone marrow transplant to meet an unrelated donor. Three years ago, a woman who had just given birth saved Vlad Demidov, a boy in Podari Zhizn’s care, with cord blood donated to the Samara registry. Irina, Vlad’s mother, confessed to us that she was very keen to meet her. That was when we decided we had to help.
But how to find this kind-hearted young mother? Would there be any information at all about who she was? And yet, they met in the end. It’s just that our preparations looked more like a play in several acts, with some scenes feeling like they’d been taken from the pages of a detective novel.
Act 1: The Appeal
It all began the moment we met Vlad and Irina. It was Irina’s words and Irina’s tears that persuaded us that she just had to meet the donor. This mysterious individual and their goodwill alone gave Vlad something he couldn’t have gained anywhere else: his life, which had spent several years on the razor’s edge between life and death. The only way to save him was with cord blood cells from an unknown donor. Now, three years later, there he is, playing with LEGO, drinking tea with cake, acting strict with his mum, grandma and cat. He’s even that way with us, the Gift of Life staff here to visit him and take photos.
What could she be like, this young woman who unknowingly saved Vlad? “I’d be happy to see even a picture of her,” Irina tells us. And so we call the Samara cord blood registry, and they promise to help us. One month until the meeting.
Act 2: The Investigation
“We soon found what we were looking for. Every sample in our registry is labelled with a number. The catch is that that a donor’s information is sealed, so we had to gather an entire council of doctors in order to unseal the envelope”, says Pavel Ovchinnikov, head of the blood and blood cell preparation department. “Turns out we got the sample in 2006, and there was no mobile number listed, just a landline nobody would pick up.” We started to look for the Komarov family in databases, but their home address didn’t work out either. That’s when we got in touch with the head of the clinic, found a different address in the outpatient medical record, and asked the clinic staff to leave the Komarovs a note under the door with a request to call back.
The Samara cord blood registry is a state institution working on a state contract. 400 samples are prepared per year, and all information is sent to searchable international databases. Right now, the registry lists 10,000 samples. It’s not much, but it’s all the state budget can support. This is why the Samara registry works with a single maternity hospital to serve all its needs. In the registry’s 15 years, it has provided 63 samples, but this is the first time in the registry’s history that a donor will meet a recipient.
When we told Vlad’s mother about the Komarov family, she had what one might call mixed feelings: she was both happy and uncomfortable, and even frightened. There was one central question: what would Vlad think of such a meeting? Where could it even take place? After all, the Komarovs and the Demidovs live at opposite ends of the country. But the problem solved itself. Vlad was scheduled for a routine medical checkup in Moscow, which made it a good place to meet.
Act 3: The Surprise
“I came home and saw a note asking me to get in touch with the head of the clinic. I was terrified!” says Yekaterina Komarova. “Of course, I called her straight away, and heard something that floored me. Nastya was born twelve years ago, and I didn’t even remember that I’d given the cord blood to the registry. And then, twelve years later, I suddenly got a reminder.”
Yekaterina and Nasya Komarov waiting to meet Vlad
The news made a great impression on Yekaterina. Naturally, she told her husband and Nastya. Her daughter was delighted. And that was when we came to believe that the meeting would happen.
Act 4: The Preparation
On the fateful day, we meet Irina at the Dmitry Rogachev Centre for Paediatric Haematology. “My feelings were all over the place, both when I found out we could meet her, and now, with the meeting mere hours away. I haven’t told Vlad anything. He’s shocked enough every time he has to go to the hospital. And so there we are, waiting on tenterhooks together with my mother-in-law. All our friends and relatives are in tears—they can’t believe that this is really happening. They’ve brought presents. I have no idea what’s going to happen. My first instinct is to hug and kiss this woman. I’m very curious about what her daughter’s like too. Is she anything like Vlad? Donated blood is family blood. They’re like brother and sister now.”
Irina told us that her older daughter, Anya, badly wanted to be a donor for her brother, but her bone marrow wasn’t compatible. Now she’s twelve years old, just like Nastya. Coincidence? We think not.
Komarovs and Demidovs. At last, they have met!
Yekaterina and her kids are the first to arrive. We chat, get to know each other, and wait for Vlad, who’s not in the mood. That happens. He’s the temperamental type. He doesn’t want to go anywhere but home. The mood drops. But then we get a phone call from Irina: Vlad’s agreed to come.
Act 5: The Conclusion
Long-awaited hugs. Words of gratitude. Overflowing feelings. They talk about everything on Earth, but especially how it all happened. Teary eyes all round, and then real tears. A sea of smiles, happiness and kind words. Eyes shining with joy. And children who instantly make friends and go out to play.
We couldn’t be happier that they’ve finally met. All of us couldn’t be happier.
Gift of Life thanks all donors and supporters! Together we give children like Vlad a better chance to beat cancer.
Raad Vlad’s story in Russian here.