Mario (Germany) and Dorothy (UK)

Mario and Dorothy – the story of a very special family photo

Stem cell donation saves lives – The life of Dorothy Powrie and her family in Scotland can live a normal life because of the donation of a German man from Gescher.

It looks just like a normal family photo. A couple surrounded by children and grandchildren – everyone is smiling happily. Mario Döring is one of these people. He stands in the back – probably deliberately. However, he is the man that made this photo possible. The 38 year old donated stem cells 5 years ago, without even knowing whose life he will save. Today he knows better: It is Dorothy Powrie (61 years old), the woman that now takes a picture with him and her family.

The whole story began in 2006: Mario Döring is working as a banker at NRW Bank. It was shortly after his daughter’s birth when he registered with the Stefan-Morsch-Stiftung, a charitable foundation and stem cell donor registry. “Registering was the right thing to do” he said, a sentence that will come up many times in this story.

What he considers as the most natural thing in the world, is the only way to save a life for many patients, like in this case, the life of Dorothy Powrie. Dorothy lives in Scotland, is married and mother of three grown-up daughters when she is diagnosed with leukemia in 2013. Her husband becomes very emotional when he speaks about these past times. After many cycles of chemotherapy and various treatments, the physicians concluded that only a stem cell donation could save Dorothy’s life. As in many cases there was no matching donor within her family. “The chances for a leukemia patient to find a related donor are rather low: only approximately 30% of the patients find a donor within their close family. In such cases the worldwide search for a matched starts”, explains the Stefan-Morsch-Foundation, Germany’s first registry of unrelated volunteer bone marrow and stem cell donors.

Since the Stefan-Morsch-Stiftung established the first German bone marrow and blood stem cell donor registry in 1984, the development has grown rapidly and today there are about 25 donor registries. The donors of all the German registries combine their data in the “Zentrales Knochenmarkspender-Register Deutschland (ZKRD)”, the central bone marrow donor registry of Germany. There the complex process of the national and international donor searches are coordinated – such as that of Dorothy Powrie. Her genetic characteristics were compared to those of the registered donors. A time in which recipient and relatives often vacillate between hope and trepidation. Ideally, 10 of 10 HLA markers are identical. When the search for a suitable donor for Dorothy began, Mario Döring showed up as the perfect donor, his genetic characteristics matched.

In autumn of 2013 he received a call from the Stefan-Morsch-Foundation. The question was: “Are you willing to help someone?” and the answer as fast as the donor was certain: “Of course! I would be happy to save someone’s life.” On December 11th, 2013 his stem cells found their way to Glasgow. Neither Mario nor Dorothy knew who the other was, but while the transfusion slowly dripped into Dorothy’s veins both of their lives began to connect.

Dorothy was a brave fighter. With the help of Mario’s stem cells and Dorothy’s determination, she was able to fight and win. Best of all, she can see her daughters find love, see them getting married and becomes a grandmother of two adorable granddaughters.

After his donation, when Dorothy went into the next round in her fight against blood cancer, Mario Döring had only one wish: “I would be immensely happy if I can help that person and if I will be able to get to know them someday.”

2017 this dream came true. Mario took two months leave and started cycling to Scotland. An incredible journey that ended where Dorothy waited. They had written letters, exchanged pictures and then they finally met each other. Graeme Powrie, Dorothy’s husband, still has trouble finding the right words to express the emotions: “Without Mario the happiness of this family would not be as it is right now.” Mario emphasizes one again: “I would do it all again – without hesitation.”

2018 he took his family to Scotland, as can be seen in the picture. Nobody can distinguish who belongs to one family or the other. In fact, it is not even necessary… they all belong together.

For 2019 both families plan to celebrate Easter together. They tell their story to spread some hope. They want to show what a difference a single person can make when registering as a stem cell donor: “Every registered donor is a symbol of hope patients and their families!” says Graeme Powrie who has been motivating people for a long time to register as volunteer donors with Anthony Nolan in Great Britain.