Gwen Cinquemani, then 14, and her family were hit with a life-threatening diagnosis three years ago.
The teen was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS), which is a rare blood disorder that can lead to leukemia.
“I was very healthy. I was active, always doing something, so the diagnosis was kind a halt to everything I was doing,” said Gwen, a cheerleader in her hometown of New Rochelle, New York.
Gwen and her family had to endure a year of regular hospital visits, blood tests and platelet counts after the diagnosis.
“There’s really nothing worse than a sick child, your child,” said Tiffany Cinquemani, Gwen’s mother. “It was earth-shattering… a really difficult road.”
Doctors advised that the teen need a bone-marrow transplant. Gwen is a triplet. However, tests revealed that neither her brothers were a match.
Unfortunately, Gwen’s case isn’t unique. Seventy percent of patients requiring a transplant don’t have a fully matched donor in their family.
Gwen could not see her next birthday if she doesn’t have a bone marrow transplant.
“It just was so unknown. I didn’t really know what was gonna happen or what was going on or what would happen in the future and I think that’s what scared me the most,” she said.
But Gwen wouldn’t be left fearing for long. A thousand miles away in Minneapolis, a high school teacher named Haven Davis signed up as a donor for “Be the Match,” a bone marrow registry.
Haven, 35, heard about the organization via a Radio Lab episode. The topic was about a person who donated her life to save a life. Haven was inspired by the story to take action.
Haven said it seemed like a “simple and easy thing to do,” so she did it.
“Most people experience few side effects. It just seemed like a no-brainer to me,” she said. “It was really not a hard decision.”
Haven signed up to the registry, and it revealed that she was a match with Gwen.
“It’s a 14-year-old girl, OK, I’m in,” Haven recalled. “There were no other questions after that point.”
Haven’s bone marrow was harvested for Gwen in 2018, and the succeeding transplant was a success.
Gwen was able to recover from MDS and is now strong and healthy thanks to a stranger who saved and saved her life.
The long-awaited meeting took place on April 7th at a Be The Match gala in lower Manhattan. Gwen, now 17 years old, was present when Haven called her to join her on stage.
Gwen and Haven had previously communicated online, but they had never met in person. The moment arrived and the two shared a warm hug in front an emotional audience. Gwen’s parents hugged Haven as well.
“For me, it was really exciting,” Gwen said of seeing her donor in the flesh. “I didn’t know this was how I was going to meet Haven, but I’ve been thinking about it for a while now.”
“I don’t really know how words could express what me and my family feel but obviously we’d say thank you but I don’t think that says enough,” she added.
Haven will treasure this moment for the rest her life.
“Just knowing that she as so young when she received the donation, to hear about how her life has blossomed and to hear about her growing up and becoming the beautiful, young woman that she is, is pretty mind blowing,” she said.
Tiffany is grateful Haven made the selfless choice to donate her bonemarrow.
“She absolutely saved my daughter’s life,” she said. “Without her I don’t know where we’d be today.”
Gwen and Haven hope that their story will encourage others to donate. Visit Be the Match to learn more about how you can become a donor and support the cause.
You can see the video below to find out more about how these strangers were bonded for life.
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