MAYWOOD, Ill. (CBS) — A DNA test has connected a cancer patient to the donor whose stem cells saved her life.
Holly Becker, 45, met Patrick Davey, now 25, at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood on Sunday.
In the fall of 1997, Becker, of Chicago, had just graduated from college, moved from her parents’ home, and taken a sales and marketing job – but suddenly, she began running a high fever, couldn’t eat, and felt extremely weak, the medical center said.
Before long, the then-24-year-old could no longer work and had to move back in with her parents. Her doctors first thought she had the flu, then mononucleosis, but she ended up being diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that spread to her spleen, liver, and bone marrow.
Chemotherapy did not work, so she was referred to Loyola and oncologist Dr. Patrick Stiff. This time, high-dose chemotherapy and full-body radiation killed Becker’s cancer cells, but they also killed her immune system’s white blood cells. For that, she would need a stem transplant.
Stem cells usually come from bone marrow, and Becker’s brother and sister offered to donate – but were not a match, Loyola said. There were also no matches in the National Marrow Donor Program.
So Stiff looked instead to donated cord blood – the blood in the umbilical cord and placenta after a baby is born. Dania Davey had donated her son Patrick’s cord blood to a blood bank when he was born, and about five years later, he came up as a match for Becker, Loyola said.
Patrick Davey’s cord blood stem cells were thawed and infused intro Becker’s body, where they became replacement white blood cells. That meant Becker now shared Davey’s DNA.
Becker was cured and now works for a medical nonprofit. Patrick Davey grew up, went to college, and is now a commercial real estate agent.
But the story didn’t end there.
About two years ago, Becker and Dania Davey both submitted samples to a home DNA test. Then, they realized their unusual connection.
Becker had been curious about her ancestry and Dania Davey, who had been adopted, hoped to find her biological family.
The DNA test said Becker and Ms. Davey were a likely mother-daughter match – which was impossible. But Becker had a theory – could it have been the cord blood transplant?
After discussing the circumstances, they figured out the transplant indeed could have been the link. And with everyone’s consent, Dr. Stiff arranged for a lab test in which Patrick Davey submitted a cheek swab and it was compared with a sample of cord blood on file from b ecker’s transplant. The swab and the blood sample were a perfect match, Loyola said.
“The whole time, I’ve just said it’s surreal,” Becker said to Patrick Davey on Sunday. “But something that your mom said when I talked to her, which is something I’ve always believed, is that everything happens for a reason.”
“We’re connected forever, and it’s just such a wonderful – just a wonderful feeling,” Dania Davey added.