Francesca Barone Schmitthammer is laughing. It is hard imagining this bubbly American woman in sad moments. Moments in which she frowned. No comparison to today, today she beams with happiness. Her sight catches those of the two men standing next to her – her husband Fred and the 34-year-old truck driver from Castrop-Rauxel: Pierre Kückelmann who saved Fred’s live seven years ago by donating stem cells. Now they met at the Stefan-Morsch-Foundation, Germany’s first donor registry – a meeting that shall also encourage others, that shall give hope.
Flashback to 2010: The Schmitthammers live in the USA. Fred is a computer specialist and is very committed to the help of leukemia and tumor patients in his private life. Especially because the son of a befriended couple was diagnosed with leukemia some time ago. An organization searched for a donor, but the boy died. Shortly after this incident Fred himself feels weaker and weaker. His blood counts are very bad. In May he gets the diagnosis: leukemia! He and his wife know what that means. They have six children. The fear and the sorrows are enormous. Will there be a suitable donor? A genetic twin that has the same HLA markers and that is ready to save Fred’s life?
A donor is found indeed, but he is not available. Devastating news for the patient. But that also means the search needs to go on – go on to find that unique and rare match. Finally, the perfect match is found in the registry of Stefan-Morsch-Stiftung: it is Pierre Kückelmann from Castrop-Rauxel, 9000 km away from Fred. The 27-year-old truck driver registered in 2005: “The mother of a friend was diagnosed with leukemia and so our whole sports team went to register with the Stefan-Morsch-Foundation.”
When Pierre gets the message that he is needed as donor, it is obvious for him to help. This man is a real Westphalian. He does not talk that much. When Fred and Francesca call him hero or live saver today, he turns away uncomfortably. But, he is a man that stands by his word. On a December morning he is at the apheresis center at Stefan-Morsch-Stiftung and donates his stem cells.
Fred on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean does not know who his donor is and this will be the case for another two years after donation. The only thing Fred gets to know after infusion, is that his donor is a man. Pierre also does not know who his genetic twin is, he just sends an anonymized card along with a little pink lucky pig. Today Fred, Francesca and Pierre are laughing about that: The Americans did not know that pink pigs are seen as lucky charms in Germany. They were puzzled by this gift and could not understand why Fred’s donor sent him a pink pig. Fred thought that was strange, but still kept this little present with him all the time.
Two years after donation Fred and Pierre are able to exchange personal data. 2014 Francesca manages to organize a big surprise for Fred. She secretly calls Pierre and asks him to come to the USA. At the birthday party of Fred’s grandson, Pierre shows up and leaves Fred totally speechless. Pierre says: “I was extremely nervous beforehand. I nearly ran away.”
Since that visit daily mails are send back and forth. They are friends now, no, more than that: they are blood brothers. Fred reacts very emotionally every time someone asks him about Pierre: “What shall I say? Without him I wouldn’t be here today. Without him I wouldn’t have the chance to see my grandchildren grow up. Without him my wife wouldn’t have her husband and my kids wouldn’t have their father. Without him I would be dead!”