For three and a half years, an email thread connected Danielle Stephens and David Rutherford.
“At the time, I don't know if he realized exactly what he had done,” said Stephens.
“We had a lot in common,” said Rutherford. “We both love the outdoors, rescue dogs."
That’s not exactly where their story begins. They were connected years before – by bone marrow.
Stephens had Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). The mom of two was diagnosed at age 39. She needed a bone marrow transplant to survive.
“I would've died if I didn't find a match,” she said.
Right now, in the U.S., 14,000 people are waiting for a bone marrow transplant. Only 2 percent of Americans are registered as potential donors.
“I got a call,” recalled Rutherford, who happened to be one of the names on the national registry.
“Senior year of high school, a classmate of mine came down with leukemia,” said Rutherford. “We held an event at the end of the year where people showed up, swabbed their DNA and submitted it.”
Only 40 percent of patients will ever find a match. David’s high school friend never did.
“When I didn't think I had the strength to fight this dreadful disease, I got the most wonderful phone call that anyone can imagine,” said Stephens, to a crowd at a DKMS breakfast, honoring bone marrow recipients and encouraging others to join the national bone marrow donor registry.
"A selfless 25-year-old man was willing to donate his bone marrow to a complete stranger in hopes that she can live out the rest of her life,” Stephens told the crowd. “I haven't met my hero Dave in person but we've emailed numerous times."
Then, Stephens got what she called the biggest surprise of her life. David had flown to Dallas to meet his match face-to-face for the first time.
“I was speechless,” said Stephens. “I didn't really know what to say. I looked at him and hugged him. I have to hope that he truly knows what an amazing gift he's given me.”
A gift Rutherford couldn’t have anticipated delivering eight years and thousands of miles after agreeing to become a donor.
“I just don't know what could be better than saving someone else's life," said a grateful Stephens.