'Without her, I'd be dead'
> Looking her cancer saviour in the eye
FELICITY Gain was at the height of her career as a model when she was diagnosed with leukaemia, and her world fell apart. For months, the 24-year-old Briton fought for her life with chemotherapy and radiation. Ultimately, only a bone marrow transplant would save her.
After a long search, a suitable donor was found through the stem cell donor database run by the Stefan Morsch Foundation: Siobhan Kirsten Mansfield, from the German town of Trassem, came to her rescue, and Gain survived.
Now, 14 years later, the two women are meeting for the first time.
Gain flies to Germany from London, and they both smile as they hug each other.
"I can only keep thanking you," says Gain, currently aged 38.
"Without her, I'd be dead. She presented me with a second life," she stresses to a bystander.
The Stefan Morsch Foundation, Germany's oldest stem cell donor database, has brought the two women together, along with a score of other donor-patient pairs.
"Many, many recipients want to meet their donors," says foundation spokeswoman Andrea Djifroudi.
"So such a gathering is a very emotional moment."
Contact is allowed two years after a transplant. Gain and Mansfield have actually been in touch for years by email and on Facebook.
"But looking each other in the eye is a very special thing," Gain says.
"We're going to become good friends."
Mansfield, who is now 44 and works as a secretary for a Luxemburg-based bank, opted to help as "a matter of course", she says. She had already registered as a stem cell donor with the foundation in 1996, as she donated blood.
The actual bone marrow donation procedure was "quite unspectacular", she recalls.
"I didn't even need to take painkillers afterwards. I only felt weak for a few days," she says.
The Stefan Morsch foundation has a database of about 450,000 potential donors, and is part of an international network with almost 29 million donors around the world.
Since it was founded in 1986, the Stefan Morsch Foundation has facilitated more than 6,000 bone marrow transplants in countries as far apart as the United States, South Africa and Australia.
"There is barely a country where we have not sent a donation," says Djifroudi.
Gain, who currently works as a salesperson for a cosmetics chain, wants to campaign for more registration by potential donors in Britain.
"England is very international. That large genetic pool could mean a major chance for many people," she says.
The chances of finding a suitable donor among siblings within the patient's family st ands only at about 30%, the foundation says. That is why outside donors are needed, and they should share as many identical tissue characteristics with the patient as possible.
It worked for Gain and Mansfield, perhaps because both their families have Irish roots.
"I am now you. I have your blood inside me," Gain tells Mansfield, and she holds her in her arms. – dpa
Former model Gain (right) from London and her stem cell donor, Mansfield from Germany in a park in Birkenfeld, Germany during their first meeting on Sept 17, 2016.