Surprise meeting delights survivor

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jamie Giesler of Ferdinand, left, caught her breath after being surprised by her bone marrow donor Dustin Williams of Dallas during the Dubois County Leukemia Association’s annual benefit dinner at the Huntingburg Event Center on Saturday. Giesler, who received a bone marrow transplant on March 26, 2008, had never met Williams and didn’t know that he would be at the benefit.

By CANDY NEAL
Herald Staff Writer

HUNTINGBURG — Jamie Giesler of Ferdinand explained to the crowd at the Dubois County Leukemia Association’s annual benefit dinner and dance Saturday night how she received a bone marrow donation five years ago that saved her life.

The Forest Park High School volleyball coach then stood to the side as others told their stories. Jeremy and Cammy Parsons talked about how their 8-month-old daughter, Laken, was saved by a donor; she’s 8 years old now. Maria Scherle talked about signing up for the donor list and later donating to a 58-year-old man.

And then a man stepped to the microphone and explained that he also was a donor. He proceeded to read a letter he received three years ago from the person to whom he donated.

As he read, he got choked up, which moved Jamie and the rest of the crowd. But when he got to the part of the letter in which the recipient thanked him for allowing her the chance to see her three girls grow up, Jamie got a shocked look on her face and started to tremble. Seconds later, the 43-year-old was sobbing as she realized that he was reading her letter.

She was looking at the man from Texas who saved her life five years ago. This was Dustin Williams, her donor.

As soon as he finished reading, “Sincerely, Jamie Giesler,” Dustin, 34, turned to Jamie. And she launched herself at him, squeezing him tightly and crying on his shoulder. Nearly everyone else in the room also was crying.

“I feel like I just won the lottery,” she said soon after finally letting him go. “I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it.”

Jamie was diagnosed with acute myelocytic leukemia in November 2007. She had chemotherapy treatments that put the leukemia into remission. But she desperately needed a bone marrow transplant to save her life.

Dustin, who is a nurse practitioner in Dallas, got on the registry in 2006 after finding out that one of his best friends had chronic myelogenous leukemia. Although Dustin wasn’t a match for his friend, his friend is doing well now, Dustin said.

Two years after getting on the registry, Dustin found out that he was a match for a woman in Indiana. “I didn’t hesitate at all,” he said. “Someone needed my help; of course, I was going to donate.”

After more tests, doctors found that Dustin was a perfect match. They extracted the bone marrow from him, shipped it to Indiana and it was transplanted into Jamie on March 26, 2008.

With the five-year anniversary of the transplant surgery came the opportunity for Jamie to find out her donor’s name and contact information, with his permission, through the National Marrow Donor Program. Jamie and Dustin corresponded via email. About two weeks ago, she sent him an email asking if they could meet sometime. She got no response.

“I was afraid that he wouldn’t want to meet me,” she said.

What she didn’t know was that her husband of almost 11 years, Paul, had already contacted Dustin, asking him to come to the benefit as a surprise for Jamie. “We already had that arranged by the time she sent me the email,” Dustin said. “I didn’t respond at first because I didn’t want to blow the surprise. But (Friday) night I decided to respond.”

“I was so excited. He said that we could arrange to meet sometime soon,” Jamie said. “I told my husband all about it.”

Jamie also explained that she was a little miffed at her husband for not doing anything special to recognize her fifth anniversary of being leukemia-free. “Paul knows how important this is, so I was mad that he didn’t do anything.”

Now she knows why. Dustin and his wife, Cristi, flew to Indiana on Saturday afternoon and were surrounded by Jamie, Paul, their daughters — Adria, Madison and Kylie — and other teary-eyed well-wishers by Saturday night. “This is the best feeling,” Dustin said.

The couple headed back to Texas on Sunday. But they will always be a part of the Giesler family.

“To know that this is the man who made it possible for me to see my children grow up,” Jamie said, “there’s nothing I can do to ever thank him enough for that chance.”

Mike Uebelhor of the county leukemia association said that donors are always needed because many donations come from people who aren’t related to the recipients. The association will have a registry drive this summer during the Dubois County 4-H Fair; the date will be determined later.

The association will cover the $100 registration cost for anyone wanting to be on the registry, Uebelhor said. The association gets a registration discount and the rest of the cost is covered through donations, such as the proceeds from Saturday’s benefit.

Anyone wanting more information can contact the county leukemia association at 683-2833 or dcleukemia@psci.net. Information also can be found through the National Marrow Donor Program at BeTheMatchFoundation.org.

Contact Candy Neal at cneal@dcherald.com.




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