EDITOR’S NOTE: Twila Walker submitted this article about her daughter, Rhonda Christensen.
Rhonda Walker Christensen, a 1981 Brownwood High School graduate who lives in Dallas, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in November, 2007.
Christensen, 46, who holds a Ph.D. and works in computer science, went through a round of chemotherapy treatments before doctors decided on a bone marrow transplant.
While friends and family rallied around her, Christensen learned that a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Southern California gave a gift as a San Diego College sophomore in 2002 that would help her survive.
“Another girl that lived in my residence hall had a friend who had cancer and needed a bone marrow transplant so she sent out a mass e-mail asking for everyone to register for the National Bone Marrow Registry,” said Elizabeth Jordan.
“I’d never heard of it before or knew it existed, but I got to thinking ‘oh my gosh, I could match this person and save her life.’”
After a simple cheek swab to register with the database, Jordan quickly forgot about the test. Weeks turned to years without a response from the donor center.
Five years later, Jordan received a December phone call that reminded her of her good deed. The caller said, “We have identified you as being a match for someone. Would you consider continuing?”
Jordan said it was exciting to know she could finally help someone.
Jordan began the donation process through the City of Hope Cancer Center, in Duarte, Calif., where she gave blood samples to pass a second screening. In the spring of 2008, she had a day-long physical to gain final clearance for the donation.
“I didn’t know much about Rhonda, except she was a woman in her 40s,” Jordan said. “I didn’t really understand the disease or what her life had been like before all this, but I assumed she must have children. When you learn more, you become more emotionally invested.”
Christensen was given the go-ahead after a year had passed to begin communicating with Jordan through the filter of their respective donor coordinators. Staying in touch and sharing aspects of each other’s lives through Facebook, e-mail and letters, and finally a phone call, strengthened the bond between the two.
By spring, Christensen suggested a face-to-face meeting at her Dallas home.
She offered to fly Jordan and her father to Dallas on July 26. At Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Christensen introduced Jordan to the life she helped save.
“I couldn’t wait to meet her and show my gratitude,” Christensen said of the event, which included a party in Jordan’s honor and a visit to Baylor Medical Center where Christensen was treated. “She is truly remarkable to me and is now a new member of our family.”
“It’s great to be able to do something for somebody else,” Jordan said. “We live in a world where we see so many sad things and so many injustices and a lot of time we feel helpless. It is incredibly empowering to know I helped save someone’s life.”
Jordan, now 26, organized a bone marrow drive at her college in Los Angeles in September and Christensen flew out to help and be a part of the effort. Christensen also went to Amarillo to help with a bone marrow drive that her sister, Laresa Chesley, headed.
For more information visit www.marrow.org.