Met Their Match
When he was not even 2-years-old, Mason was diagnosed with a form of blood cancer similar to leukemia. After countless tests and medication, the experts at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago determined that a bone marrow transplant was necessary to save the toddler’s life.
“This was devastating news,” remembers Reid Kelly, Mason’s father. “Because it’s not like you need bone marrow and you just go and get it. Finding a donor match can take time, and there’s no guarantee you’ll find one.”
To the Kellys’ surprise, their friends and community mobilized, organizing large-scale events where potential donors could be tested. “Our friends hosted an event at Gorton,” says Lindsay. “When the woman from the bone marrow registry arrived with the kits, she brought 400 and said ‘You’ll never use all of these.’ We ran out of kits that day! More than 700 people came to be screened.”
The Kellys had the same experience with events that were held at Lake Forest Sportscars and in Lindsay’s hometown on the East Coast. “The number of people who turned up for our family was unprecedented,” explains Lindsay. “Those collecting the donor data kept saying they’d never seen anything like this.”
When the search for a donor began, doctors told Reid and Lindsay who the ideal donor would be. “They explained that an ideal match for Mason would be a 25-year-old male. But the chances of this are very slim,” says Reid.
But as luck would have it, a 21-year-old male from Germany matched Mason. Germany has the second largest population of bone marrow donors in the world, second only to the United States. The Kellys were thrilled with the news.
But their excitement was quickly replaced with fear when the young German went missing. “It was such an emotional rollercoaster,” recalls Reid. “But they warned us this could happen. Even when a match is found, it’s still up to the donor whether or not they want to move forward with the actual donation. Even though our donor disappeared, in my gut I knew he’d come back.”
And he did. On December 20, 2007, not even two weeks after Lindsay gave birth to her second child, a little girl name Reese, Mason underwent a bone marrow transplant with the donation from the young man in Germany. “At first, the transplant didn’t take. But the doctors at Children’s worked tirelessly to make the procedure a success,” says Lindsay. “Today, Mason is a healthy, Spider-Man-loving kindergartener.”
With Mason cured, Lindsay knew more than ever that she wanted to find the selfless donor. So she processed the necessary paperwork with Children’s Memorial and began the waiting game. “I became crazy about checking my email and mail from the post office.” They heard nothing.
Then one day this summer, Lindsay was unloading groceries from her car, when she hit the message button on her answering machine. “I’ll never forget walking into the kitchen with my arms full of bags and hearing this nice voice from Children’s saying that they had heard back from Mason’s donor.” The truth was, Children’s had received a letter from “Tim,” the donor, some time ago, but it was written in German, and the staff wasn’t able to translate it. “It was the news we’d been waiting for. Reid and I quickly went onto Facebook and found him.”
It wasn’t long before Tim and Reid were “chatting” on Facebook. “I asked him why he did it. Why he came back and donated. And very matter of fact, Tim said, ‘It’s a matter of course. It’s what you do.’”
Since their virtual meeting, the Kellys have sent photos of Mason and the family (which now includes little brother Hunter) to Tim. “Because he’s not yet a dad, it’s hard for him to understand what he did for us,” Lindsay says. “I hope someday that I can just hug him and tell him in person how grateful we are.”
The Kellys also want to thank all of those from Lake Forest and Lake Bluff who were tested to be possible donors for Mason. “To this day, I’ll be at the park, and someone will overhear me call Mason’s name, and they’ll ask, ‘Are you Mason Kelly’s mom? I was tested to be a donor,’” says Lindsay. “If we didn’t realize how special our community was before Mason’s illness, we sure do now.”
—Ann Marie Scheidler