OCEANSIDE — On Sept. 15, 2008, Mary Young of Toronto, Canada, received a diagnosis of leukemia. When treatments proved ineffective her doctors explained her only hope was a bone marrow transplant. Two siblings were tested, but deemed unsuitable as donors.
On Dec. 1, 2008, Young was placed on a universal transplant list. Two thousand miles away in Oceanside, Calif., Dave Vannice came home one day to find a voicemail message from the San Diego Blood Bank that he was a possible match for someone who needed a bone marrow transplant. His initial reaction was, “Holy cow!”
A bus driver with North County Transit District, Vannice said he joined the registry on a routine trip to the blood bank 20 years earlier. He moved several times since then and was amazed that they were able to find him.
He complied with a request to provide another blood sample and was told that the odds were 8-to-1 that he’d be a match. Later he received another voicemail that he was the best match and they wanted to proceed as soon as possible.
“There was never any doubt that I was going to do this,” he remembers. “Then my mind went to what was going on at the other end. Who was ill? How bad was the situation? Obviously the situation must be dire.”
Vannice said the procedure went smoothly. The blood bank asked if he wanted updates on the patient’s condition. He said yes. When a year passed and no reports were given, he assumed the patient hadn’t survived. What he didn’t know was that Young had sent two letters that were being held until a required period of anonymity passed.
It was 14 months later that the blood bank called Vannice with news of the letters.
“I can’t tell you how surprised I was considering I thought she probably died,” he remembers. “Well, she most certainly had not died. Just the opposite: a complete and miraculous recovery.”
When Vannice spoke with Young via telephone she mentioned that during her illness her family started a blog to keep others apprised of her condition and treatment.
“When I read that blog it really rocked me,” Vannice said. “I was and am overwhelmed. They make me out to be some kind of big hero.”
Then on Jan. 22 they met face to face when Young, her husband and two daughters flew to San Diego. When Vannice heard they were staying at the L’Auberge in Del Mar, he mentioned it was on his bus route and suggested they meet at the bus stop for a five-minute chat.
“They were waiting to get on the bus at 6:30 p.m. when I rolled up,” he said. “I set the parking brake, hugged Mary and her daughters and shook hands with her husband,” he said. “They decided it would be fun to get on the bus. I drove to UTC and we had 15 minutes alone to chat.”
Vannice returned them to the hotel and spent another day showing them local sights which included watching him work out in the masters swim program in Carlsbad.
“We like to believe that Dave’s level of fitness and his conscientious attitude to diet and frame of mind were all contributing factors to the success of my transplant,” Young said. “Now the tears and anxiety about our initial meeting can finally be put to rest and we can get on with life and enjoy what, I hope, will be a long friendship. We hope that someday soon Dave will visit Toronto and we will be able to show him our home.”
Vannice says it’s difficult to describe the bond he feels with Young and that he’s eager to accept her invitation.
For more information, visit www.marysmarrow.blogspot.com.