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'Just floored': Woman finally meets bone marrow donor who saved her life

The gift of bone marrow was life-changing for both donor and recipient.
/ Source: TODAY

In honor of the special moments that were delayed during the pandemic, TODAY is celebrating the "Milestones We Missed," bringing together people who were separated by COVID-19 concerns.

On Thursday, a transplant recipient and donor met for the first time live on the show. Tia Jensen and Gage Tappe didn't know each other just a few months ago, but they've already had a lasting impact on each other's lives.

In 2018, Jensen was diagnosed with leukemia after she noticed bruises. She had already lived with multiple sclerosis for 20 years and said that while she was "used to being frustrated or disappointed with (her) body," the diagnosis was a surprise.

"I was sad, but it was just another thing I was going to have to face," Jensen said.

To treat the illness, Jensen started chemotherapy at the Seattle Cancer Center Alliance. But she also needed a bone marrow transplant, so she joined the waiting list and awaited news of a match.

At the same time, in Idaho, Tappe was struggling with depression. Tappe said he was at an "all-time low" after moving to a new state and having partial custody of one of his children. He signed up for the national bone marrow donor program, and months later, got a call that he was a match for Jensen.

Tappe told TODAY's Carson Daly that he didn't even think about not doing the program once he was selected.

"It's how I was raised," Tappe said. "Help people when they need help. If you can help in a big way or a small way, doesn't matter. Do what you can, and that's it."

Within months of being matched with Tappe, Jensen received the bone marrow transplant that she needed. The transplant led to both her leukemia and multiple sclerosis going into remission.

Tappe said that the donation helped him cope with his own depression.

"I felt like my life wasn't worth very much, so I hoped that I gave myself a chance to put some value to my own life by trying to help somebody extend theirs and continuing to stay on the list ... And you have to be alive to do that," Tappe explained. "And I can't (be on the list) if I'm in the throes of depression or not around ... It gave me a sense of value to myself that I didn't previously have."

Jensen said that she wanted to thank her then-anonymous donor, so she wrote numerous letters in hopes of reaching him. After two years, she received an email with his information.

"I was screaming, running through the house," Jensen recalled. "'Oh my gosh, oh my gosh. I have my donor information!' ... I think we forget too often how kind and big-hearted people are. And I am so grateful that my donor was willing to just be brave and take that step and share this kindness and marrow and give me a second chance at life. All this was done not knowing a thing about me, and I am just floored by the charity and the beauty in that."

For months, Jensen and Tappe stayed in touch, but it wasn't until Thursday morning that they were able to meet face-to-face.

"I feel so blessed to be here and just so happy to see you," said Jensen.

"I'm grateful to finally get the chance to meet you," Tappe responded. "(I'm) just grateful and happy that you're here."

To honor Tappe's donation, Jensen and Be the Match have put together an online event encouraging other potential donors to sign up for the registry.

"You inspired me. You did such an amazing thing for me and my family and I wanted to honor you," said Jensen. "... Hopefully we can save more lives.”

Interested in joining the Be the Match registry? Click here for information about how to register.