15 months after receiving bone marrow from major, 5-year-old is cancer-free
HOHENFELS, Germany — A little more than a year ago, Maj. Rick Kaiser was called upon to donate bone marrow to a complete stranger — a leukemia-stricken, 4-year-old girl who was fighting for her life.
Kaiser, who had registered with the Department of Defense bone marrow program almost 10 years earlier, didn’t hesitate to go through with the procedure that involves extracting the bone marrow from his pelvic bone with a hollow needle.
The girl would remain a stranger for a year after the transplant, as required by the National Marrow Donor Program. However, Kaiser — senior engineer observer and controller for the Combat Maneuver Training Center in Hohenfels — got monthly updates on her condition, which continued to improve throughout the year.
On Feb. 19, after a year of corresponding through the national program, Kaiser was finally permitted to put a name and face to the girl whose life he had saved: Kaitlyn Chandler, now 5.
“Kaitlyn has no idea of how sick she was,” her mother, Cindy Chandler, wrote in an e-mail from her home in Chester, Va. “Basically, she will tell you that she had ‘bad blood,’ and Rick gave her some of his to make her all better.
“Someday she will understand the enormity of his gift to her.”
Cindy said that without the transplant, Kaitlyn’s chance of surviving Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, or AML, was only 20 percent. With the transplant, her chances increased to 80 percent — and increase even more with each year she is cancer-free.
Although minorities normally have less luck in finding suitable donors, Kaitlyn, an Asian-American, had to wait only three months for the National Marrow Donor Program to locate Kaiser as a suitable donor.
Kaiser didn’t need numbers or statistics to encourage him to go through with the 90-minute extraction procedure that left him with discomfort in his back for about a week.
The husband and father of two boys didn’t think twice about agreeing to the procedure.
“We looked at it as a family,” Kaiser told Stars and Stripes in March 2002. “I have 8- and 6-year-old boys. As parents, maybe we see this in a different light — [seeing another] parent with a child who is suffering, and a 4-year-old child at that.”
Although not all bone marrow recipients are so lucky, Kaitlyn remains cancer-free and her prognosis is excellent, her mother said.
The Kaisers and Chandlers communicate by telephone at least twice a month and nearly every day via e-mail.
“Kaitlyn is very timid and will not talk on the phone directly, but she talks about Rick — ‘Uncle Rick,’ ” her mother said.
“She loves to take pictures for Rick and send them to him. She knows that he donated his ‘blood’ and that’s why she is better. She tells other people about him.”
Kaiser’s wife, Heather, made the first telephone call to talk to Kaitlyn’s parents on the same day that Kaitlyn was celebrating her new “birthday,” Feb. 19 — the date of her transplant.
“Cindy answered and I said: ‘This is Heather Kaiser,’” she said. “She probably thought I was a telemarketer. Then I said: ‘My husband was your daughter’s bone marrow donor.’
“The line went silent for a minute, then she started crying, and then I started crying.”
Cindy said that for much of that first phone conversation, all she could do was say thank you.
“I couldn’t speak through all the emotions; thankfulness, gratitude, love,” she said. “I think I just kept saying: ‘Oh my God, thank you.’ What do you say to someone who has saved your daughter’s life? Thanks just isn’t enough. Then, Rick got on the phone and I lost it again.”
They plan to meet in person next summer when Kaiser’s next Army assignment takes him back to the States.
“I just couldn’t wait to talk,” Cindy said. “Now I really want to touch him — just hug him.
“Before we talked, I would tell people how overwhelming it was to know that there was somebody, somewhere in the world that I didn’t know, but that I loved so much.
“He gave such a beautiful gift to us, life for our little girl. We will never be able to express what we feel for him and his family, just that we love them and they will always be with us.”