Army employee's efforts help restore young German leukemia victim's health
November 21, 2009
WIESBADEN, Germany -- For 102nd Signal Battalion telephone technician Alexander Weber-Fetscher, June 22, 2007, will be remembered as the day he welcomed a new life into the world and helped save another one.
That's the day his son was born and the same day he received a letter informing him that he was an ideal match as a stem cell blood donor for an ailing leukemia patient. "The same day as my son was born there was a letter at my house," Weber-Fetscher said, explaining that he had registered with the German Bone Marrow Donor bank in Koblenz in 1994 after seeing a German television program seeking a donor for a 4-year-old boy.
While he wasn't a match for the 4-year-old that time, he did come up as a match for another patient five years ago. "But they didn't take me," Weber-Fetscher said, explaining that the series of blood tests matches an initial four blood markers, and if successful, doctors take more blood and try to match an additional six markers of the donor with the patient in need of a transfusion.
Weber-Fetscher, who lives in the town of Spall near Bad Kreuznach, has worked for the U.S. Army since 1999. Initially he worked with the 410th Base Support Battalion before joining the 102nd Signal Battalion and eventually shifting to Baumholder when the Bad Kreuznach military community closed.
When notified he was a match for a young German girl in 2007, he was sent a package which he took to his local doctor for another blood test and then was invited to the Red Cross in Frankfurt where he was examined to ensure he was healthy enough for the donation process. "I went to Frankfurt, and they checked my blood and body and said that I checked out. Then they gave me an appointment," he said.
In preparation for the donation, Weber-Fetscher had to administer four injections a day for five days to stimulate the growth of more stem cells in his blood. The cells were then filtered out of his blood during the donation process.
The story could have ended there, because donors are not allowed to have information about or contact with the recipient for two years, but after two years of recovery, Kristina, the grateful mother of Maike Siemer, now a 16-year-old still living in the northern German town of LAfA$hnden, wrote to the organization where Weber-Fetscher was registered. After email correspondence between Weber-Fetscher and Kristina, it was arranged that he and his family would travel to Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) to "surprise" her daughter.
"It was emotional, indescribable, beautiful," said Weber-Fetscher describing the wave of emotions felt by both himself and the Siemer family during the get-together. After years of setbacks and struggling with the disease, Maike made rapid strides toward her former good health following the stem cell donation.
"She said 'oh my God.' She was overwhelmed," said Weber-Fetscher about the meeting.
Later, in gratitude, Kristina contacted a German television show which features lifesaving stories about the experience. After Weber-Fetscher was contacted and agreed to participate in the re-enactment, he first traveled to the clinic in MAfA1/4nster where Maike was treated and then to her home for the television filming.
While Weber-Fetscher didn't make a big thing about the experience, a colleague of his in Wiesbaden, Aizaz Hussain, also with the 102nd Signal Battalion, saw the TV program, "Visite" on the North German Television channel and was pleasantly surprised to see his coworker. "Normally I watch it," said Hussain. "When I saw the program I called my wife and said I saw one of my coworkers.
"It was great, what he did," added Hussain, helping save a young girl's life. (Editor's note: While bone marrow donations have the reputation of being a sometimes painful process, Weber said, modern techniques have improved the process and in his case it was relatively painless because he donated stem-cell enriched blood, rather than marrow from his spinal column. For more information about the German Bone Marrow Donor bank, Weber added, people can visit www.dkms.de. For a better understanding of how the donation process works visit www.mayoclinic.com/health/bone-marrow/MY00525.)