If you don’t believe miracles can come from the least expected of places, simply talk to Joan Dudoward.
Joan had not been feeling well and had been experiencing shortness of breath when she received a worrying call at her office in the fall of 2010.
“It was my doctor who told me my white blood cell count was low, but it was nothing to worry about. I just thought, ‘why would you call me at the office if there was nothing to worry about?’,” she recalls.
It turns out Joan was waging an internal war with leukemia, a disease that claims the lives of so many across the country each and every year. Her family, fearing the worst, rushed to her side to see if they could provide the bone marrow Joan so desperately needed.
“My brothers were not a match and couldn’t help. My daughter told me she couldn’t give blood and I asked if it was because she was pregnant, and she told me she was. I was so happy it almost wiped out any of the bad feelings I had,” she said.
Joan found herself where so many others stricken with leukemia do: On the waiting list and holding out hope that a donor could be found. While many wait years on end to see if their lives can be saved, Joan was informed a donor had been found within months. on Feb. 11, 2011, Joan had the life-saving procedure.
With a new lease on life thanks to those she calls “the angels on the 15th floor” of Vancouver General Hospital, those at the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital and friends and family, Joan wanted to thank the person who gave her a second chance to care for her aging mother and welcome another grandchild. But that information is classified unless both parties agree it can be released, so Joan filed the form and patiently waited to see if the donor would agree.
“I’ll never forget it. On National Aboriginal Day my phone rang. It was Vancouver General Hospital saying they could tell me the name of my donor was Charles Wilson. I asked where he lived and when they told me it was Port Edward, I just thought ‘Oh my god’,” she said.
“So I picked up the phone, called Charles and said ‘Happy Aboriginal Day, this is the woman whose life you saved’.”
Charles, who was a member of the Port Edward Volunteer Fire Department, said he initially gave blood after his next door neighbour’s son was diagnosed with leukemia.
The call that he was a match with Joan was the second time he had received such news — in the case of the first patient, the man had put off the transplant until it was too late and he passed away.
Although the two wouldn’t formally meet for quite some time, Charles said he recognized Joan from an earlier encounter.
“When I went up to have the bloodwork done, I realize now I had seen Joan sitting in the waiting room at the hospital here in Prince Rupert,” he said.
“You just never know who you are giving blood for when you choose to donate.”
Wilson said he is proof of the difference a simple, painless procedure can make in the lives of complete strangers near and far.
“It could be a match for people overseas or anywhere else in the world and I encourage anyone to sign up to donate,” he said, noting there is a particular need among the First Nations population.
“We’re living proof that by donating blood, anything can happen.”
A lot has changed since the two first met for dinner with their families, but Joan and Charles have maintained a strong bond and a unique link with one another.
“Feb. 11, when I received the stem cells, is my rebirth. It’s like I get two birthdays every year,” said a tearful Joan, who this year marks three years of healthy living since the transplant .
“How do you thank someone who literally saved your life? There is just no words, …. Earth Angel, I call him my Earth Angel.”