TODAY

TODAY   |  April 29, 2014

Cancer survivor meets donor who saved her life

Dana Severson needed a bone marrow transplant after three chemotherapy treatments failed to beat her cancer. Six years after receiving the transplant, she meets her donor, Keith Engholm, for the first time. TODAY’s Kyle Michael Miller reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> back now with a remarkable story about how one stranger's kindness saved a woman's life. dana was one of 12,000 people every year who needed a bone marrow transplant in order to survive.

>> she was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008 and after chemotherapy didn't work, her only hope was finding a matching donor. today's kyle michael miller found out how a decision by a man living hundreds of miles away changed her life forever.

>> do you need your apron?

>> my apron, my doggy apron.

>> she's so energetic and full of life. she embodies everything i think life should be about.

>> dana savors every moment with her husband keith and 6-year-old daughter genevieve. she is a military veteran who served in the army and completed two tours in korea and iraq. but six years ago, dana began experiencing headaches, which wouldn't go away.

>> you realized something wasn't right here.

>> just wasn't feeling well.

>> reporter: so she went to see a doctor and the prognosis wasn't good. what was the moment when the doctor told you had cancer?

>> i copt belieuldn't believe it was happening. i had just been delivered a death sentence.

>> reporter: dana spent the next six months in and out of the hospital. and had three doses of high intensity chemotherapy.

>> it would go away but then immediately start coming back. it is like a roller coaster. to me, it didn't feel like it was the end.

>> reporter: you knew you would come through the other side.

>> somehow i did.

>> reporter: but chemo wasn't enough. dana needed a bone marrow donor so she turned to the national registry . 750 miles away , keith anghome, an air force veteran and complete stranger, just happened to be the perfect match . when the doctor told you, we have a match, what did you think?

>> i was thanking god. there was renewed hope. there are not words enough to express my gratitude.

>> reporter: their names are kept secret because of privacy laws . through her doctor, dana and her family sent thank you letters to keith . finally, keith and his wife mary found dana on facebook but they still haven't met in person. with her new life, dana has taken up running and has even completed three half marathons.

>> you survived cancer, but, too, you're a survivor in the marathon, half marathon , whatever the race is.

>> yes.

>> absolutely.

>> that's going to stick to my bowl.

>> reporter: now the routine things have special meaning thanks to the kindness of a complete stranger.

>> i'm just so grateful for every day. it is all thanks to him.

>> oh, wow.

>> what a great story, dana is here with her doctor, nicole from the new york presbyterian hospital columbia university medical center . hi.

>> congratulations to both of you.

>> how are you feeling today?

>> i'm feeling extremely grateful and happy to be here.

>> and your sister was first person you went to. and that was not a match, right?

>> not a match.

>> you know what i love to see, a doctor who tears up. we love this woman, cares so much about your patients. tell us about the whole experience.

>> well, obviously dana went through this.

>> but you went through it with her.

>> the experience, having leukemia is a difficult, obviously a difficult diagnosis with chemotherapy and clearly if chemotherapy isn't enough, going for a donor for a transplant is a life saving --

>> it is interesting how you found this stranger keith . tell us how you found him.

>> well, i have written to him every year, the process is long to get letters between the recipient and the donor. and he got the letter at year five, and i actually got a request from his wife, mary , hi, this is mary , keith 's wife. i'm kei .

>> you never met him but you exchanged letters. we have a letter he wrote, which we love, it is a beautiful love we want you to hear about. the few awards i received in my service don't come close to helping you. i love that.

>> i'm glad everything worked out. some day, would you like to meet?

>> good to see you.

>> good to see you too.

>> come sit next. now, keith , how beautiful? what is it like meeting for first time?

>> it is awesome. we have seen each other on facebook and stuff, and i knew what she looked like to a point, i've seen pictures of her with no hair, like me, and now beautiful hair.

>> beautiful bald.

>> thank you.

>> wow. and complete stranger, huh?

>> yeah. i signed up for the bone marrow registry back in, like, '82, '83. and not everybody is a match, but it is the process is long. and it is very rewarding.

>> yeah.

>> what would you like to say to him today?

>> there is a lot of things. what do you say to someone who saved your life?

>> we wanted you to be able to spend a little more time together, is our friends at gotham west market are furnishing a complementary dinner for the two of you and keith 's wife mary . we hope you're going to enjoy that.

>> and catch up and get to know each other.

>> absolutely.

>> thank you, all, so much. we're so glad you're here. all right.