Cancer survivor celebrates 5 year mark with donor - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Cancer survivor celebrates 5 year mark with donor

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If Erin Blonshine ever wondered if her perfect match was out there, now she knows. His name: Johannes Saur.

Blonshine, a 29 year old teacher, says "It's very surreal to stand next to him and know that on the inside our immune systems match."

Erin is from Dacula, Georgia, diagnosed at 21 with AML, a form of Leukemia.

Johannes is from Ulm, in southern Germany.

He joined his country's bone marrow donor registry at 18, hoping to help a sick classmate.

Then, he got a call at 20 – telling him he was a match for an American.

Saur says, "I immediately said, "Yes,”

Blonshine says, "There was a lot of peace and comfort knowing there was a 10-out-of-10 match for me, who was willing to do this."

But two weeks later, the transplant was put on hold. Saur got a phone call at home in Germany. He says, "I was told, "No, we don't need you anymore,"

Dr. Amelia Langston, who headed up the Emory Bone Marrow Transplant team that treated Erin explains, "We got her into remission and we thought we were going to be okay. Then about a year later, her leukemia relapsed, and we knew that the only potential cure was a transplant. "

Johannes got another phone call. This time it was urgent, “They said, "Can you donate as fast as possible?" Obviously, yes, yes, yes! Let's do it." Erin says, "He never wavered. They said, here are the risks, here is what the process is going to look like, and he was in from the start."

In August of 2009, Johannes donated his bone marrow at a Dresden hospital.

It was flown to Atlanta, to Erin.

After weeks of grueling chemotherapy to wipe out her sick immune system, the infusion took just 30 minutes.

That Christmas, through The Be the Match foundation, Erin sent Johannes a postcard, saying thank you.

Johannes says "That was, I would say, the most emotional part of all of the story.” Erin says "I think I just did my best to describe my gratitude, via words, I think that's something I still really haven't been able to fully express to him.

Just to let him know I was doing well, too. That was important for me to communicate to him. That things were going well."

Erin recovered, becoming a teacher at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.

In 2012 she and Johannes met for the first time, in London. She says it was almost an “out of body” experience. She didn't know what to feel. She says, “It was so much gratitude, so much... life. It was just an incredible experience."

Now, Johannes has come to Atlanta , to celebrate Erin's 5-year cancer-free mark. Dr. Langston, says 5 years is a big deal here on Emory's Bone Marrow Transplant Unit. She says, “Five years, for most Leukemia survivors, means "cure." It means we're done worrying about the Leukemia."

Erin and her family took Johannes and his girlfriend Tina camping on Lake Lanier. Walking around Emory's Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, Erin says, “It's been really neat to get to show him my life. Where I live, my friends. It was important for me for him to meet my family and my friends. I wanted them to know who he was."

Johannes says their friendship is “intense.” He says, "I adore Erin, personally, I have to admit it. She's a very, a lovely person. I tell it to her nearly every time we connect. I adore her positive attitude. All the strength she took out of that tough time for her."

Erin and Johannes have just one more day together, before he heads home to Geneva, where he now lives. But it's pretty clear this friendship is just getting started. Overcome by her emotions, Erin Blonshine says, "I wish I had words to say thank you. It's just so much gratitude. And my heart is just full right now with him being here."

To learn more about how to sign up for the “Be the Match” National Bone Marrow Donor Registry, click here.

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