Be The One Run brings preschooler together with his life-saving donor

Posted March 24th, 2011 by Be The Match and filed in Donor Stories, News, Patient Stories
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This May, a 4-year-old Omaha, Neb., boy who underwent a marrow transplant will lace up his sneakers and join forces with the donor who saved his life. They’ll run together in the Twin Cities Be The One Run® to support patients in need of a marrow transplant — and to give hope to more families like Owen’s.

Owen Jensen’s parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins will be piling into a couple of minivans for this special road trip to Minneapolis. Ready to greet them will be Laura Houghton, Owen’s 25-year-old marrow donor from Brooklyn Park, Minn.

“This run will be a big celebration for all of us. It’s a great way to bring our families and friends together to help raise money and spread the word about marrow donation.” Laura said. “One look at Owen and it makes all the sense in the world.”

Owen has gently broken the news to Laura that he’s pretty confident he’s faster than she is.

Owen’s diagnosis

Owen in the hospital

In the fall of 2009, Owen was diagnosed with juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia, a rare blood cancer. Chemotherapy wasn’t a viable treatment option and doctors knew his only chance was a marrow transplant. But Owen, like 70 percent of patients in need of a transplant, had no marrow donor match in his family.

Laura gets the call

Fortunately for Owen, a few months earlier, Laura had joined Be The Match Registry. “I remember the day I got the call from Be The Match,” Laura said. “They asked if I was still interested in donating and told me about a little boy who needed my help. I was his match.”

Although she knew only that the patient was a 3-year-old boy and could be from anywhere in the world, Laura couldn’t shake the feeling that he was close.  She had no idea how close.

Transplant day

On Jan. 7, 2010, Laura was on the 4th floor at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital donating marrow. Just one floor above her, Owen and his family were waiting for Laura’s life-saving cells.  To have a donor and transplant recipient in the same hospital is rare. Because of confidentiality guidelines, neither Owen’s family nor Laura knew they were in the same building; they didn’t even know each other’s names.

For the next year, Laura thought of her recipient often. “I prayed for him and his family every day. For a year, I would imagine this little boy in my head. To be 3 or 4 and having to deal with this disease . . . But I always imagined him spunky, a trouper who wouldn’t give up. I imagined him getting better every day. And when I met him, he was all of those things.”

Owen and Laura meet

After a year, and if both parties agree, donors and patients are allowed to exchange information. In January 2011, Laura and Owen met for the first time.

Heather Jensen, Owen’s mother, remembers preparing Owen to meet Laura. “He was too little to understand the importance of marrow or how frightened we all had been. He knew he had been very sick and in the hospital to get better. I explained that Laura gave him some of her good blood so that he could get well.

“His reaction was priceless. He turned around and with complete sincerity simply said: ‘That was nice! I need to say thank you.’

“If Laura hadn’t joined the registry — I don’t know —  I don’t want to think about what would have happened,” said Owen’s mother. “We will spend the rest of our lives saying thank you.”

Owen meets Laura, his marrow donor

Owen meets his marrow donor Laura

The two families will participate in Be The One Run Saturday, May 21, 2011, at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. It includes a 5K, 1K Fun Run, and a Tot Trot.

About Be The One Run

Be The One Run gives patients with leukemia, lymphoma, and 70 other life-threatening diseases a second chance at life. Each year 10,000 patients need a marrow transplant but have no donor match in their family. They depend on Be The Match to help them find an unrelated donor and receive the transplant they need.

Through Be The Match Foundation®, Be The One Run raises funds to support marrow transplant research, help patients with uninsured costs, and add more potential marrow donors to Be The Match Registry®, giving more patients hope for a cure.

Get Involved
Visit BeTheOneRun.org to learn more, register, fundraise and volunteer.
To join or contribute to “Team Owen” and support all patients in need of a marrow transplant, visit: http://www.BeTheMatchFoundation.org/goto/teamowenmn

5 Responses to “Be The One Run brings preschooler together with his life-saving donor”

  1. Terri Peterson says:

    Owen! We are SOOO happy that you are doing so well. We will be at the Be The One Run as well. And guess what? My daughter Bailey had JMML in 2003 and had her bone marrow transplant at the U as well. We’re going to be looking for you at the Run! And I’m guessing you’ll be about a mile ahead of Laura? Have an awesome summer, buddy.

  2. Dan says:

    Great job Owen! You keep being being strong cause I know God has really good plans for you in life.
    How inspiring to see there are still angels om earth. God bless you Laura.

  3. Sam says:

    This story really has me hoping that I can be contacted soon to help someone with their battle. What an honor it would be to help someone get their second chance

  4. Julie Muhlecke says:

    Owen, you are a strong little boy who has been through more than most adults!! You have done a great job handling all the pokes and time in the hospital. Thank you Laura, for helping our family keep Owen healthly. You are a life saver!! Can’t wait to meet you and your family in Minneapolis in May.

    Aunt Julie

  5. Yadira says:

    What a beautiful story!!! Owen you are very special and blessed!! Laura you are an angel! My daugyer had a BMT when she was 8mos old, she is 3 now… Thanks to a an angel who donated an umbilical cord – I will never have the chance to meet her, but I thank all donors, you are heroes, you give life!!!! 🙂

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