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UC Riverside student's bone marrow donation saves Iowa man's life

March 27, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Grant Vietor and Alex Fishburn shared a hand shake and a warm hug when they met for the first time at Ontario International Airport on Wednesday.

Once strangers, the two now share a great bond.

Vietor, a 46-year-old Iowa high school basketball coach, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010. It was a battle he almost lost, had it not been for Fishburn's life-saving bone marrow donation. As it turned out, the 22-year-old University of California at Riverside student was a perfect match.

"A year ago, I was probably going to die," Vietor said. "Thanks to him, I have life now and I'm doing great."

Doctors removed Fishburn's bone marrow Feb. 13, 2012.

"The whole process is you get injections for five days before and it forces your stem cells outside of your bone marrow and then they harvest your blood for 2 1/2 hours."

Vietor received the transfusion on Valentine's Day. Now cancer free, he says the day has a new meaning.

"It's really important to take one day at time and just enjoy the many things we have in life," Vietor said.

Vietor and Fishburn had to wait a year to meet face to face. On Wednesday morning, the Vietor family flew in from Iowa to personally thank Fishburn.

"We'll never repay him for what he's done in saving my husband, my children's dad, his life," said Vietor's wife, Bonita.

Fishburn registered to be a potential donor in 2008 while at a LifeStream Blood Drive. Three years later, he got a call from the national bone marrow registry, Be the Match.

"You sign up for it, might as well. When it actually happens, it's surreal," the student said.

LifeStream, which works in partnership with Be the Match, is celebrating the milestone.

"Two-hundred lives have been saved because of the donors that we recruited signed up and had do exactly what this donor has done," said LifeStream's Dr. Diane Eklund.


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