Survivor meets her match

Transplant survivor meets her match 
Penny (right) and donor Susan

Penny Rushing is a country girl at heart. She rides horses, hunts deer, camps and loves the outdoors. Yet less than a decade ago, she nearly died from leukemia. A bone marrow transplant from an unrelated donor helped her beat great odds to survive. Five years post-transplant, Penny finally met her match: another country girl and horse lover.

“It’s so amazing a complete stranger can save someone’s life,” she said of her marrow donor, Susan Michaud of Kingston, Tennessee. Penny’s two sisters hadn’t been a good match for her, yet a woman she didn’t know from a town she’d never heard of turned up as a match through the National Marrow Donor Program and Be The Match Registry®.

Even with the bone marrow stem cell transplant, Penny’s chances of surviving the first year had been only 20 percent. Like that of most BMT patients, her recovery was challenging and riddled with setbacks, spanning years instead of months.

So when Penny approached her five-year survival milestone, she blew out all the stops to celebrate, planning a cross-country vacation with her mother and sisters to meet Susan and family. Susan requested they meet at her church, as the entire congregation had prayed for years for Penny’s return to health. Amidst all the hugs, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. 

“Susan told me she’d originally joined the donor registry because she thought how neat it would be to one day save someone’s child,” Penny remembered. “Standing there looking at my mother, she said, ‘And I guess I did.’ ” 

Penny presented Susan with a large stone tile she’d made for her bearing the inscription: Life. There is no greater gift. 

“Susan gave me a second chance at life, and for that I’ll be forever grateful,” Penny said.   

She also credits her good health in large part to her transplant specialist, Joseph McGuirk, DO. He and his BMT team at The University of Kansas Cancer Center continue to monitor Penny, eight years later, through annual follow-ups. “Dr. McGuirk makes you feel like you’re the only patient he has,” she said. “He’s been absolutely awesome since day one.” 

The blood and marrow transplant program at The University of Kansas Cancer Center is the largest in the region and has performed more than 1,800 successful transplants. Learn more about the BMT program. Or call 913-588-1227.