This week Marie Stark, mother of six year old Ava Stark who received a lifesaving stem cell transplant from a stranger in 2016, made contact with the person who gave Ava a second chance of life.
At the age of just three, Ava was at the centre of a nationwide appeal to find a matching stem cell donor after she was diagnosed with inherited bone marrow failure in 2016. She was treated at Edinburgh hospital where she received various blood transfusions and rounds of treatment. The doctors then came to the conclusion that a stem-cell transplant was her best chance for survival.
Ava’s story was seen by people all over the world. The public were encouraged to join the Anthony Nolan register to give their family hope that somewhere out there was Ava’s life-saving match. Ava’s story touched so many people, inspiring 20,000 people to join the Anthony Nolan register.
After a long, complicated search, on 25 November 2016 Ava received her transplant.
Two years after Ava’s transplant, Marie asked Anthony Nolan to be put in direct contact with the person who donated their stem cells to Ava. It was at this point Marie learned Ava’s “hero” was called Juleena Masters. After sending a scrapbook filled with press cuttings related to Ava’s transplant journey to the US, Marie decided to reach out over Facebook.
‘I was getting worried that the scrapbook hadn’t been picked up, so I took the initiative to track down Ava’s donor myself.’ Said Marie.
‘I was in work, just waiting for Juleena to acknowledge the message - she responded within hours, which felt like days. When I read her response, confirming she was Ava’s donor, I screamed the world down. I was absolutely over the moon.’
Marie was thrilled to find out Juleena was also keen to connect.
As soon as she could, Marie wanted to tell Ava they had found her “angel”.
‘I had to tell her that day’ said Marie.
‘I said to Ava “I need to talk to you. You know how you always wondered who your hero is…”. Her eyes widened when I showed her the picture of Juleena. She said “but she’s got blonde hair”. I told her angels can have blonde hair. And then she asked if Juleena could come round to tea that day.’
The trio are planning to keep in touch.
To anyone inspired to join the Anthony Nolan register after reading Ava’s story Marie says: ‘I hope this encourages people.
‘While donating may not mean as much to the donor, it’s the most precious gift anyone could give a family in our situation. It allows someone to smile again, to laugh again, to ride a bike. To spend time with their family.
‘Words can’t convey what Juleena’s gift has meant to us.’
Anthony Nolan’s Chief Executive, Henny Braund says: ‘We’re thrilled to hear Marie has made contact with Ava’s donor and excited to see how their relationship develops.
‘We now know Juleena was the selfless stranger who agreed to donate her stem cells to a three-year-old 4000 miles away. She now knows that her actions have given an adorable little girl a second chance of life.
‘Without selfless donors, such as Juleena, there is no cure for children like little Ava.
‘Ava’s inspiring family, and their incredible work signing up thousands of potential stem cell donors from Scotland and beyond, will continue to give people like Ava a second chance of life for many years to come.’