Orange County woman meets her stem cell donor for 1st time


Karen Castelblanco and Yvonne Yhol act like old friends -- laughing, finishing each other's sentences and even sharing a tear or two. But the two women met for the first time on Friday.

In April 2010, Castelblanco's life was turned upside down. The active mother and school teacher was diagnosed with leukemia and given just months to live. Her only chance was to get a blood marrow stem cell transplant.

"They tried to knock the leukemia down with traditional chemotherapy, nothing worked," said Castelblanco's husband, Steve.

And then a miracle happened. Yhol, who lived near Dresden, Germany, was a perfect match. And though she had never met Castelblanco or her family before, she agreed to donate her stem cells.

"For me, it was only a yes and a few injections. It wasn't a big thing," said Yhol.

But for Castelblanco and her family, it was unbelievable.

"When you get the one person that's going to save her life, literally, you just can't fathom the emotion," said Castelblanco's mother, Andrea Jolliffe.

Yhol said the process was simple, much like doing a dialysis treatment. For two years, the women communicated through emails and letters. Then on Friday, they met face to face for the first time.

"Clearly we could feel their heartbeats pounding from a few feet away. It was just an emotional moment," said Steve Castelblanco.

Yhol registered to be a donor 15 years ago, and seeing how she helped Castelblanco has changed her life. She is now on a mission to encourage everyone to register to become a stem cell donor.

"You know there's somebody else in this world who could help," said Yohl.

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