After 18 years, former cancer patient meets her life saving donor
After approximately 18 years, Amy (Stuart) Budke, a 1992 Mexico High School graduate, has finally come face-to-face with Englishman Andy Hall, the man who saved her life from across the Atlantic through the gift of bone marrow.
"It is very hard to explain what it means. Imagine holding your breath for two decades and finally being able to exhale," Budke said in regard to meeting her donor. "Andy is very kind. He has a great family, and bone marrow, and I think that speaks volumes about his character."
Budke is the daughter of Mark and Sally Stuart of Mexico. She was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) in October, 1994.
CML is a cancer that stems from within bone marrow and causes uncontrolled growth of immature cells.
Her survival depended on a bone marrow transplant. Budke's family was tested, but none of the members were a match to her marrow. A bone marrow drive was held in Mexico and though several volunteers became donors, no one matched Budke. As a result of that drive, some of the people have become donors including both Craig and Chrissie Isaacs, former MHS graduates.
Budke was then placed on the international donor list and took oral chemotherapy until a match could be found.
Andy Hall of Manchester, England, was located in January, 1996, and agreed to the transplant. His bone marrow was taken in a cooler from England to Seattle, Wash., where the surgery took place that March.
Several complications occurred post transplant, including the development of graft-versus-host disease, which requires blood tranfusions. At one point, Budke became too weak to as much as open a Tupperware container.
In total, she received 29 transfusions. Her health began to improve in 1998, when she accepted a job at a Girl Scouts camp. She believes being outdoors helped to hasten her now full recovery.
At the time of her diagnosis, Budke was attending Baylor University in Texas. Though the disease hindered her studies three additional years, she graduated from the University of Missouri with a bachelor's of science in fisheries and wildlife and a minor in biological science in 1999.
"Before leukemia I was a college student, my life was measured by semesters," Budke said. "During my treatment my life was measured by blood tests. Currently my life is measured by moments: fishing with my husband and kids, my daughter playing the piano, riding a horse through the hills, hugs from my son."
Budke lives in Elmdale, Kan., with her husband, Brian, and two children, Reece and Nora, and teaches middle school science. She said she basically has the life she dreamed of while in the hospital all those years ago.
"I learned that I am an extremely fortunate woman," she said. "I have the love and support of a great family and many, many friends."
Budke met her marrow donor when her family and the Hall family came together for the first time in late July. The families convened in Indianapolis, where the Halls were visiting relatives.
"I didn't ask about what led him to donate because it seems obvious, he wants to help others, just like all the other marrow donors," Budke said. "I was pleasantly surprised by his enthusiasm to meet me and my family."
Hall would later send Budke an online message, which read, "Last Saturday was quite an overwhelming experience and it wasn't until I got back to Helen's (Hall's wife) sister's when the words on the picture sunk in, together with the notes from your parents and brothers. It has been quite humbling. Once again, it was a privilege to meet you and your lovely family. I hope it won't be the last."
The picture he referred to is of famous trumpeter Louis Armstrong and the music to his song "What a Wonderful World." The Budkes gifted the picture to Hall for three reasons: Andy is a trumpet player; "What a Wonderful World" was one of the Budkes' wedding songs; and Budke changed the lyrics in the picture given to Hall to read, "I heard my babies cry, I watch them grow. Because of your gift, I love them so. What a wonderful world."