Olathe man surprised by visit from marrow donor
By ALAN BAVLEY
The Kansas City Star
Sometimes the actions overwhelm the words. And it was just as well Saturday morning for Brandon Steffen.
The 19-year-old Olathe man was struck almost speechless when he got a surprise visit from the man who helped save his life two years ago by donating bone marrow for Brandon’s cancer treatment.
More than 100 friends and family members were gathered at the Overland Park Church of Christ for what Brandon thought was a celebration of his parents’ 25th wedding anniversary.
Little did he know that Valorie and Stuart Steffen had arranged for Brandon’s donor, Joerg Drewitz, to fly from Boston to meet their son. It’s rare that donors and recipients get to meet.
At his mother’s request, Brandon, a music scholarship student at Johnson County Community College, played a piano piece he had composed when he was battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Just as he finished playing, Valorie stood up beside Brandon and said: “We all know why we all came. We want you to meet the man who saved your life.”
In stepped Drewitz, who gave Brandon a mighty hug.
“I did not expect this at all,” Brandon said. “It’s awesome. It’s why I’m here.”
Drewitz, 51, a computer software engineer, signed up on the bone marrow donor registry nearly 20 years ago. He had practically forgotten about it until he got a call that he was a perfect match for Brandon.
Early one morning in May 2008, Drewitz went to Massachusetts General Hospital, where bone marrow was drawn from his pelvis. It was then flown to Children’s Mercy Hospital and given to Brandon intravenously. The marrow provided Brandon with healthy blood and immune systems.
“I don’t feel I stand out in any way,” Drewitz said. “There are so many people who helped Brandon. I feel I’m part of a big community.”
Karen Anthony has been a transplant coordinator at Children’s Mercy for 12 years. Brandon was just her third patient to have met with his donor.
Often, donors and recipients are reluctant to meet, Anthony said.
Many donors just want to get on with their lives.
For recipients, “I think when you’re in the healing process it’s difficult to open yourself when you don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” she said.
But for Brandon, getting to know the man who helped save his life will fill the days ahead.
“I just want to sit down and talk to him about anything,” Brandon said. “I want to know who he is.”
How you can help others
For information about becoming a bone marrow donor, contact the Heart of America donor center of the National Marrow Donor Program at 913-901-3100.