St. Jude patient Maya, at age 13, blood cancer

All roads converge

In 2012, two strangers began separate journeys to a place they'd eventually come to share — St. Jude Children's Research Hospital — and a bond they would always treasure. Read their inspiring story.

 

Maya had received a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) more than a year before. She also had a chromosomal abnormality that makes this aggressive blood cancer even more difficult to treat. 

“She was going to have to have a transplant — there was no other option,” recalled her mom, Bonnie. Maya received that bone marrow transplant at her local hospital. Still, only six months later, the cancer was back. Now, she was 9 years old and facing cancer for the second time. She needed another transplant.

Mike was grieving the loss of his mother to cancer when he received the call that his marrow was a match for a girl in need. Becoming a bone marrow donor felt to Mike like a way to honor his mother by doing something positive for someone else. Maya received Mike’s cells anonymously in her second bone marrow transplant.

Mike and Maya meeting for the first time


Mike and Maya meeting for the first time

 
 

With her cancer in remission thanks to his cells, Maya and Mike were able to meet each other — and they hit it off immediately. “Maya is the most fun-loving kid I know,” reported Mike. “She is positive, caring, compassionate, a true hero … and her giggle lights up the room.”

At that time, they were both on a path to St. Jude — they just didn’t know it yet.

Not long after, in 2014, Mike joined a regional office of ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude.  

I wanted to work at ALSAC because, in my own life, I have watched cancer destroy families and finances. So many people in my family have passed away from cancer, but I can’t imagine watching a child going through that. It’s a gift and a privilege to be able to work for an organization that does so much good in the world. At St. Jude, where you come from, your finances, your background don’t matter — it’s all about saving lives. I love that so much.
Mike, bone marrow donor and ALSAC employee

Mike and Maya at St. Jude

Mike and Maya at St. Jude

When, after several years in remission, Maya’s cancer returned a third time, she became a St. Jude patient. In September 2016, right after her 13th birthday, Maya received her dad’s cells in a haploidentical transplant at St. Jude. St. Jude has pioneered the process of haploidentical transplants, in which the donor — typically a parent — is a partial match to the recipient.

Maya was one year post-transplant in September. She struggled with graft-versus-host disease, pain and other hurdles. “It’s been tough, but she’s a trooper,” said Bonnie at the time. “I call her my feisty girl."

Mike and Maya continued to stay in touch and see each other whenever possible. “Maya’s family makes me and everyone they know fall in love with St. Jude more every day,” he said. “It’s amazing how things go full circle.”

Editor’s Note: We regret to inform you that Maya passed away in October 2017. After Maya passed away, Mike set up a fundraising page in her honor. To donate to St. Jude in Maya’s memory, visit the Maya Memorial Fund page.

 

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