Nutrition Science alumna reflects on life-saving bone marrow donation
It was a whim that saved the life of a little girl more than 1,700 miles away.
A decade ago this spring, Bailey Personette — now Bailey Warmoth — walked by a Purdue University campus health fair. A booth asking for bone marrow registrations piqued her interest. She thought “Why not?” The student had a simple mouth swab during the two-minute process, and she was on the national bone marrow registry.
Eight months later, Warmoth received a call from a doctor alerting her that she was a 99.9% match for an 18-month-old Phoenix, Arizona, girl named Maddie. The toddler was stricken with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a rare blood disorder that could lead to leukemia.
Arrangements were made to travel to Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to extract life-saving marrow from Warmoth, who would graduate in 2015 with a degree in dietetics/nutrition, fitness, and health from the Purdue Department of Nutrition Science in the College of Health and Human Sciences. The marrow was then rushed to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance at Seattle Children’s Hospital where young Maddie was waiting for the transplant.
A decade later, Maddie was the flower girl at Warmoth’s wedding. This month, Maddie and her family will attend Warmoth’s baby shower in South Bend, Indiana.
“It’s still just the most amazing thing I’ve gotten to do,” said Warmoth, now a registered dietitian for the Department of Veterans Affairs living in South Bend.
Today, Maddie is a healthy 11-year-old sixth grader. She excels at club volleyball in the Phoenix area. According to her mother, Stacey Weimer, Maddie is like many tween girls — helpful, independent and stylish. And Weimer is thankful for that every day.
The donation process
Warmoth admitted that she didn’t know exactly how bone marrow was donated. It involved a six-inch needle going into her lower back through which the Boilermaker was sedated during the process. She woke up with a slightly sore back as well as the overwhelming satisfaction of doing the right thing, even for a stranger she may never meet.
“I was very enthusiastic about it,” Warmoth remembered. “I feel like I’ve always been someone that’s willing to jump to help someone any way that I can. It never crossed my mind to not do it. It was a ‘yes’ from the get-go.”
Not only was Warmoth’s donation a near exact match, the amount doctors were able to extract was more than sufficient. The bag of marrow was expedited to the Seattle facility in 15 hours. The transplant was a success, and Maddie spent 30 days in recovery. After moving back to Phoenix, Maddie needed about another year to heal while taking 20 different medications a day, but by the girl’s third birthday, she was deemed cured of her MDS.
Patients receiving bone marrow transplants have the option of knowing their donor. The Weimers, who weren’t even told what city or state the donation came from, agreed to know just who saved young Maddie’s life.
Covered by ABC News in 2014, Maddie and Warmoth were able to meet at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The family told Maddie who Bailey was and what she did to help her for months before the meeting. Cameras caught Maddie holding a sign reading “Thank you for life.” When Warmoth reached the terminal, hugs were exchanged as were a few happy tears.
“It was really sweet,” Weimer laughed. “We didn’t know how Maddie would react to her, but she ran right up to Bailey and gave her the biggest hug like she knew her forever.”
Weimer said the meeting is one of her daughter’s first memories. The friendship between donor and young recipient continues today and most likely for a lifetime. Stacey Weimer is still in awe of her daughter’s recovery and Warmoth’s selflessness. She encourages young adults like Warmoth to register to become a possible bone marrow donor.
“To even just register, they have no idea what that means to so many families out there — that there is a possibility that they could be saving someone’s life with something so simple,” said Weimer, who works as a financial center manager at a Phoenix bank. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big of a procedure to have in order to give someone’s child a second chance at life, to keep living and be fulfilled.”
Follow that whim
During a drive home from work where she provided nutrition education to Hoosier veterans about diet, diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol, Warmoth reflected on the life-saving choice she made a decade ago while a young nutrition science undergraduate.
“It’s crazy that it’s been that long because I remember getting swabbed at Purdue, never thinking I’d be one to get called to donate,” said Warmoth, who has sent Maddie numerous pieces of Purdue apparel over the years and have exchanged countless texts and FaceTime sessions.
And for the Weimer’s, they are glad they decided to get to know Maddie’s donor. Stacey Weimer admitted she never heard of Purdue before meeting Warmoth. They now have a Boilermaker in the family almost 2,000 miles away.
“She’s just an all-around good person, a very kind soul, very big heart, obviously,” Weimer said. “I’m so excited to watch where her career takes her and for her to become a mother and watch all of the great things she does.
“We hope Madelyn will have some of her drive and compassion. We couldn’t have asked for anything better.”