Since losing her cousin to leukemia during childhood, Heather Lynn made it her mission to ensure others battling blood cancers get a second chance at life. Earlier this year, the St. Louis native fulfilled that life purpose: saving a stranger by donating her stem cells.
Five years ago, Lynn became the director of global special events for DKMS, the world’s largest bone marrow and blood stem cell donor center, and registered as a potential donor with the hope that someday she could give a blood cancer patient what her cousin didn’t have – a second chance at life and more time with the patient’s family.
Amid this year’s coronaviral pandemic, Lynn received the life-changing call from a colleague that she was a match for a 58-year-old man battling acute myeloid leukemia. “I screamed with joy,” Lynn recalls. “I was a match for someone with blood cancer and was about to be the first employee at DKMS to donate and ultimately save someone’s life.” After the call, Lynn realized she would be giving more than stem cells: “I was giving something much bigger: hope.”
Despite the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, Lynn felt a strong sense of purpose to help this man and donated her stem cells to save his life. “I have seen how much someone’s life can change with a blood cancer diagnosis,” Lynn says. “The fear, the pain, the loss – it can be devastating. I have spent the past five years working to elevate the message about donating and how easy it is to sign up and give back – it simply requires swabbing the inside of each cheek for 60 seconds.”
Lynn emphatically recommends others register to be potential life-saving donors, as every 3 minutes, an American is diagnosed with a blood cancer, and every day, at least 21 DKMS donors give patients another chance at life. Seventy percent of people suffering from leukemia, lymphoma and other blood cancers must rely on donors outside their families, and the singularity of each person’s DNA means finding a match is extremely rare – making it critical to register as many donors as possible at dkms.org, according to DKMS.
“I gave someone a new opportunity at life with my donation, and … [he] gave me a new opportunity to appreciate my own,” Lynn says. “A piece of me is now connected to this other person – a piece that I was holding onto, it seems, for [him]. Giving that away made me feel closer to my true self and closer to fulfilling my own purpose in this world.”