October 02, 2019
Penny Rushing is a country girl at heart. She rides horses, hunts deer, camps and loves the outdoors. Yet less than a decade ago, she nearly died from leukemia. A bone marrow transplant from an unrelated donor helped her beat great odds to survive. Five years posttransplant, Penny finally met her donor, who turned out to be a match in more ways than one. Coincidentally, she's also a country girl and horse lover.
“It’s so amazing a complete stranger can save someone’s life,” she says of her marrow donor, Susan Michaud of Kingston, Tennessee. Neither of Penny’s 2 sisters were a good match for her, yet a woman she didn’t know from a town she’d never heard of turned up as a match through the National Marrow Donor Program and Be The Match Registry®.
Even with the bone marrow stem cell transplant (BMT), Penny’s chances of surviving the 1st year had been only 20%. Like that of most BMT patients, her recovery was challenging and riddled with setbacks, spanning years instead of months.
Susan told me she’d originally joined the donor registry because she thought how neat it would be to one day save someone’s child,” Penny says. “Standing there looking at my mother, she said, ‘And I guess I did.’ ” –Penny RushingLeukemia survivor
So when Penny approached her 5-year survival milestone, she blew out all the stops to celebrate, planning a cross-country vacation with her mother and sisters to meet Susan and her family. Susan requested they meet at her church, as the entire congregation had prayed for years for Penny’s return to health. Amidst all the hugs, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
“Susan told me she’d originally joined the donor registry because she thought how neat it would be to one day save someone’s child,” Penny remembers. “Standing there looking at my mother, she said, ‘And I guess I did.’ ”
Penny presented Susan with a large stone tile she’d made for her bearing the inscription: Life. There is no greater gift.
“Susan gave me a second chance at life, and for that I’ll be forever grateful,” says Penny.
Penny also credits her good health in large part to her transplant specialist, Joseph McGuirk, DO. He and his BMT team at The University of Kansas Cancer Center continue to monitor Penny 8 years later, through annual follow-ups.
“Dr. McGuirk makes you feel like you’re the only patient he has,” she says. “He’s been absolutely awesome since day 1.”
The blood and marrow transplant program at The University of Kansas Cancer Center is the largest in the region and has performed more than 1,800 successful transplants.