In early November 2004, Wesley Hegley and his wife Julie met with Southcentral Health and handed over the letter they had gotten in October saying they needed to have a bone marrow transplant or face death. The Hegeleys, who live in Willow, Alaska, with their two daughters, ages 9 and 7, had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia that had spread from their left side to their lungs.
For eight years, Julie, 36, had lived with the accompanying pain of the disease, which often makes it hard to breathe. That persistence made some physicians wonder whether she had leukemia after all, so they sent the bone marrow study letter back, asking the couple to take a quick family history of cancer.
That’s when the Hegeleys learned that their cousin, Tia Meyer, 38, who had quit her job as a genetic therapist to take care of Wesley, had given her marrow to a stranger. At 18, Meyer had been asked if she would be a bone marrow donor for the Hegeleys, and she said yes. She went on Facebook to look for friends to be tested.
“Because that was my first foray into the Internet, I thought maybe my boyfriend would get checked first,” Meyer said, laughing.
As the family fought the Hegeleys’ disease, they talked about the cousin who would save their lives. A nurse at the hospital called Meyer, urging her to call the couple back and saying that if they had not, “it was kind of game over.” So Meyer called back. She received an answer on the morning of Nov. 7, 2004, shortly after the Hegeleys had signed a release in Southcentral.
“Wesley is fine,” Meyer said, and told her cousin and husband about the transplant. Meyer believed the release to be nothing more than a paperwork form. She never again heard from the doctor. After the Hegeleys left the hospital, she decided to see if she could do anything.
“I thought, that’s interesting,” she said. “Could I be on the list to donate bone marrow for them?”