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Bone Marrow Transplant Transforms Two Lives

Christy Canin enjoys a sunny day with her bone marrow donor Aline Muske in Dana Point.

Christy Canin enjoys a sunny day with her bone marrow donor Aline Muske in Dana Point. Christy and Aline's relationship started with the bone marrow donation and resulted in a deep friendship.

German. Female. 27.

Those are the only three things Christy Canin knew about the woman saving her life five years ago when she needed a bone marrow transplant.

After waiting the two years Germany requires before a donor and recipient can get to know each other, Christy has learned much more about her donor Aline Müske. The two have forged a close bond through weekly video calls, countless texts and three in-person visits.

The three qualities Christy now associates with Aline: Generous, humble, kind beyond words.

"It's hard for me to think about the dark place I was in before the transplant, but it is good to remember if only to always appreciate every day because of my blessed donor," Christy says. "She gave me the gift of life. How do I ever repay her? Only by being the best person I can be and celebrating every day of my life."



Waiting for a Donor

Ronald Paquette, MD

Ronald Paquette, MD 

Christy worked long hours as a manager for an insurance company. She blamed work and stress for her exhaustion, but the fatigue didn't let up. Her husband, Frank, convinced her to see a doctor. Her blood work showed shockingly low blood cell counts, and she was promptly referred to a hematologist to conduct a bone marrow biopsy.

The diagnosis: Aplastic anemia, a rare blood disease in which the bone marrow stops producing enough new blood cells.

For a while, blood transfusions kept her symptoms at bay. Twice, she tried inpatient infusions of antibodies intended to suppress the immune cells attacking her bone marrow. After talking with Dr. Ronald Paquette, a hematologist with Cedars-Sinai's Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute, they decided a bone marrow transplant, which involves a transfusion of stem cells, was her best option.

Dr. Paquette started the search for a donor. At one point, they identified a candidate and just days before the procedure, the donor dropped out—a devastating blow for Christy.

"My daughter told me, 'That wasn't your donor.' hat wasn't the person for you,'" she says. "We had to have a lot of faith."


"It's hard for me to think about the dark place I was in before the transplant, but it is good to remember if only to always appreciate every day because of my blessed donor and she gave me the gift of life. How do I ever repay her? Only by being the best person I can be and celebrating every day of my life."


Christy's Donor

In 2016, Aline stood in a conference room presenting the results of a months-long project to managers of the company where she worked as part of her continuing university studies. Her phone chirped. At the same time, the building's fire alarm sounded, and everyone evacuated.
 
Afterward, she saw the email, text and voicemail from DKMS—a bone marrow donor registry that’s Germany's equivalent of Be the Match. She was a match for a woman in California who needed a bone marrow transplant.
She immediately called back and said yes.
 
"They asked me, 'Are you sure?' And I said yes," Aline says.
 
There are two ways to donate stem cells: through blood and through bone marrow. DKMS asked Aline if she would be open to doing both. "I said yes," she says. "They asked me if I was sure, because it meant going through a surgery. I said yes."
 
She traveled more than four hours from her home to a hospital in Cologne for the exams necessary to prepare to donate.


An Eye for the Essentials

The opportunity to be a donor came at the same time as a different kind of life-changing opportunity for Aline. She trained her entire life in karate and was rising in the professional ranks of the sport.
 
She was expected to fight in an international competition, but DKMS warned her that if she came in contact with blood from another competitor, she wouldn't be eligible to donate due to the risk of infection.
 
Despite intense pressure from her trainer, Aline walked away from the competition and professional sports.
 
"He had his goals," she says. "He couldn't understand how I could walk away after training so much and the costs. I couldn't live with the knowledge that I could be the person who can give someone else the chance to live and choose a medal over the possibility to help. For me, there was no option."
 
The fighter who never missed a single training in her life decided sports were fun, but no longer important to her. She donated blood and bone marrow that would be shipped across the globe to Cedars-Sinai.
 
"Even before the donation, my mind knew what is important to me in life," Aline wrote in an article for DKMS. "But in everyday activities, I was also driven by the pursuit of success in many situations. Work, study, sport. The donation gave me an experience that sharpened my eyes for the essentials.
 
"Suddenly, it was no longer about what other people expect of me, but about what is good in my heart. My priorities shifted. Get to know people, travel the world, enjoy life, no longer take life and health for granted, perceive every new day as a gift."

"Even before the donation, my mind knew what is important to me in life. But in everyday activities, I was also driven by the pursuit of success in many situations. Work, study, sport."


A Special Bond

After almost a year of digital correspondence, Christy and Aline first met in person in 2019 on Christy's 63rd birthday. Aline and Frank arranged the visit as a birthday surprise. The two women immediately embraced.
 
Today, Christy describes herself as "fully recovered" and excited for every birthday she gets. She and Aline share weekly Zoom calls. Everyone—friends, family, even Dr. Paquette—asks them what they talk about.
 
"Everything," they answer without hesitation.
 
"I had aplastic anemia and was about to die," Christy says. "She is the reason why I can spend time with my family again. She is the reason why I am alive. Aline is my hero."
 
Aline says she's received more than she gave.
 
"I found this impressive woman—not just someone who matches me on a genetic level, but also my soul mate," Aline says. "I also found a second family and a clear, unveiled view of the essentials."

Aline Muske surprises bone marrow recipient Christy Canin on her birthday. This was the first time the pair, who had been corresponding and video chatting, met in person.


To learn more about bone marrow donation or to join the national bone marrow registry, visit Be The Match.