Stranger gives Fairfield Twp. man another chance at life

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
Chris Allen, from Liberty Twp., received stem cells from Tyrel Jensen, from Utah, in 2015.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Eleven years ago, Tyrel Jensen, then a junior at Taylorsville High School in West Valley City, Utah, was inspired by Michael Brecker, a professional saxophone player who was battling leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant.

While researching the disease, Jensen learned about a donor registry, www.bethematch.org. He registered, swabbed his mouth and returned the results in a sealed envelope. Brecker died in 2007, and Jensen said he forgot about registering.

At the same time — 1,652 miles away in Fairfield Twp. — Chris Allen was fighting for his life. His body was filled with Stage 4 lymphoma, and even though he had defeated the disease twice before, the latest diagnosis was dire: Either get a stem cell transplant or die in three months.

“We thought we had it, but it has come back with vengeance,” Allen’s doctor told him. “It’s not looking good. This is going to be a whole new game this time. We’re going to take you the closest to death you will ever be.”

Allen responded: “I don’t want to go through this again. I’m out. I don’t want to do it.”

“But you are going to die,” his doctor said.

Initially, Allen decided he was tired of fighting and was prepared to die. But his family and friends convinced him he was being selfish, and he needed to take every step possible to save his life.

Allen’s two older brothers were tested as possible stem cell donors, and while one was a match, Allen didn’t feel his brother was healthy enough for the procedure.

So he waited.

Then he received the call that changed his life forever and connected two families — the Jensens and the Allens.

“We got a match,” Allen was told by the transplant coordinator.

“We got a match.”

Just four simple words. Four life-saving words.

Allen was told nothing about the donor.

Jensen had his blood drawn on June 14, 2015, and the bag was flown from Utah to Cincinnati. As Allen was waiting for the procedure to begin, he was handed the bag that was tagged, “A, RBC Compatible, Plasma Compatible.”

At the time Allen told the eight people in his hospital room: “I’m holding my life right here.”

Not a religious man, Allen admitted he asked a friend to place his hands on the bag and pray for a positive outcome.

“I might need a little help here,” Allen told those in the room.

The stem cell transplant procedure lasted 45 minutes and was performed on June 15, 2015, forever known as Allen’s “second birthday.”

Allen, 57, remained in the hospital for one month where his progress was constantly monitored. After his test results showed his body was accepting the transplant, he was released, but still he had to remain indoors because of the possibility of infection.

Last summer, one year after the transplant, Allen was called and informed about his donor, a young man with a wife and a son in Utah. Before the transplant, the men were strangers. That changed on June 15, 2015.

“Blood brothers now,” Allen said.

When he got up the nerve, he called Jensen, 27, unsure what to say. What do you say to someone who just saved your life? Thanks seems a little insignificant.

To celebrate the transplant, Allen invited Jensen, an account manager at a software company, and his family to attend their annual summer party in their back yard. Jensen came by himself, spent three days with the Allens and was an instant celebrity at the party. Allen and his longtime girlfriend, Teresa Spurlock, stood on the stage and announced to the crowd there was “one special person” in attendance.

The “young man that saved my life” was introduced, Allen said.

The party was “surreal,” Jensen said. “It was kind of a dream in a way. It was a lot of people I don’t know but somehow feel so closely connected to.”

Allen now is a living billboard for the importance of being a donor.

Without a donor, he said, “I’d be dead by now.”

As a phone conversation ended Friday morning between the two men, Allen was still thanking Jensen.

“Thanks again,” he said. “I will never be able to tell you how much I love you. Thanks again, pal.”

For Jensen, being a donor brought the transplant full circle. He has a brother who also received a transplant that gave him a few more years, Jensen said.

“I knew what it was like to receive after going through it with my brother,” he said.

Jensen said it made him “feel pretty emotional” to help Allen.

There was a pause on the phone.

“Grateful,” he said, his voice cracking. “And it’s one of those things where my contribution really was so much smaller than the effect it had on him. It was a small sacrifice from my perspective. I feel like I gave so little. You don’t have to give much, but the difference it makes is huge.”

The difference between life and death.