Girl reunites with the man whose 1-in-11 million act of kindness saved her life
In August of 2013, the Carvers, who live in Utah, received news that no one should ever have to hear: Their young daughter needed a bone marrow transplant — but not just any bone marrow transplant.
Cami, 8, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was just 4, and doctors determined that a bone marrow transplant would be the best hope of beating the cancer. After the doctors conducted tests, they found that her family not have a suitable DNA match. “When we found out her little brother, Caden, wasn’t a possible donor, we were really sad,” Cami’s mom, Chelsea Carver, explained to People. “It was heartbreaking because when a sibling matches it’s easier for the patient to go through the bone marrow process, they don’t get as sick.”
Then, they discovered something even more heartbreaking. “. . . the doctors came to us and said they had more bad news — there’s only one perfect match for her in the registry of 11 million people,” Chelsea told People.
That match was all the way down in Beaumont, Texas: a 26-year-old restaurant manager named Joe Tolin. Just six months earlier, Joe had joined the donor registry through Be The Match, which had held a registration drive where he worked. Talk about a miracle! “The Be The Match registry came and set up a little table,” Joe explained to People. “They were there to answer any questions, all that we needed to do was fill out our full information and get our cheeks swabbed, and they took it from there.”
Joe got the call just a week after his wife had given birth to their newborn son, and a blood test confirmed that he was a perfect match and the one person who could save her life. “I didn’t have any sort of doubt [about donating] or anything like that,” Joe told People. “I think that we all — my wife, myself, and my son if I’m sure he could have understood – all agree on the same point that what was happening was far bigger than us and really, really important.” So, leaving his wife at home to take care of their one-week-old son, Joe flew from Houston to Salt Lake City, Utah, to undergo the transplant necessary to save Cami’s life. It was successful, and Cami is now cancer-free — but the donor and recipient knew practically nothing about each other. “All we knew about him was that he was a 26-year-old male,” Chelsea told People. “We didn’t know where he was from or anything, but he actually sent us a letter. . . it just said how grateful he was for this opportunity, and it was the sweetest thing. For somebody to be thinking about sending a letter when they’re going in for surgery, that’s just really cool.”
Joe longed to know who his bone marrow was going to, he explained to People. “. . . I knew there was a girl in the United States that had leukemia,” Joe says. “There were a lot of questions going through my head: Who is this girl? How is she doing? Am I ever going to get to meet her?” Two years later, Joe got the answer to his questions. He and his family traveled to Salt Lake City to meet Cami and her family, who met the Tolin family at the airport. “Cami shouted and threw her sign up and busted through the ropes and she came and gave me a big hug,” Joe told People. “. . . it was the greatest feeling in the world.”
“It was really awesome when he showed up,” Cami told People about her donor and friend. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you saved my life.’ There’s no way to repay him.”
Then, the two families spent a long weekend together, getting to know each other. For Cami, Joe was like a new big brother (D’AW). “He was really nice and really funny and he was almost exactly like me,” she told People.
And for Joe, Cami is his hero. “Heroic is the best way I can describe her,” Tolin tells People. “She’s hopeful, she cares more about others than she does herself, she fights, she doesn’t give up and it’s just amazing to think that a 9-year-old girl has that kind of strength.”
Joe told People that it was a privilege to be able to give to Cami in her time of need. “She’s my hero, and so to be able to help her in the fight is the greatest thing I could ever do,” he said.
Tears. All. Of. The. Tears. Is there anything sweeter than this story? And it’s a reminder to all of us that we could be the one person who could save someone’s life — go to Be The Match‘s site to find a registry drive or learn how to register at home.