Joey MacDonald had the unique opportunity on Saturday to meet a complete stranger from the other side of the continent who saved his life seven years earlier.
The 13-year-old Napanee native met Kristina Zygmond, a native of Texas, who had donated bone marrow that saved his life.
Per the rules of donating bone marrow, the donor and recipient weren’t allowed to have contact for five years.
“After the five years were up we got talking on messenger and letters and on the phone,” said Tanya MacDonald, Joey’s mom.
Zygmond, who was in the U.S. Armed Forces at the time, signed up to be a donor not knowing when she’d be called upon to donate or who would even receive it. Certainly she had no idea it would be someone from an entirely different country.
After a few years of correspondence, they were finally able to set up a meeting, which took place in Napanee. This past weekend marked the first time they had ever seen each other in person.
“It was amazing, just a great moment,” MacDonald said of meeting his life saver. “I was just really happy to meet her and say thank you for what you’ve done for me.”
MacDonald was just 18 months old when he began to show signs of being sick.
“(Doctors) said I was fine, we kept going to the hospital and they’d say nothing was wrong with me,” he recalled.
Finally on his fifth hospital trip in Kingston he was diagnosed with leukemia with a grim prognosis. Without a bone marrow donation, he would not survive.
“His brothers weren’t a match, I wasn’t a match,” said his mom. “I remember getting the call that they had a match. I didn’t even have any words to say.”
Now at 13 years of age MacDonald is just like any other teen. He has a love of skateboarding, being active and spending time with family. He credits family members Brad and Liz Greenway, his grandmother, brother Cody MacDonald and his wife Lorraine Hatch, brother Ben MacDonald and friends Penny and Gary Jeremy and Janice Dickson. They helped him through the difficult times of countless trips to Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital.
He continues to go for regular check ups but all signs point to him leading a healthy and normal life. He’s set to graduate from elementary school this June and is looking forward to starting high school in the fall. A notion that once seemed improbable before the kindness of a stranger some 1,617 miles away.