Twins Meet the Donor Who Saved Their Lives
Kathryn and Elizabeth Girtler finally come face-toface with the selfless stranger who gave them back their childhood
When Elizabeth and Kathryn Girtler saw Ingo Gruda for the very first time, it was as if they’d known him forever. The 9-year-old twins “hugged him really tight,” their mom, Michelle, tells In Touch. “They just had an instant, unspoken bond.” They had never met before, but Ingo was the man who had saved their lives. Elizabeth and Kathryn suffered from a rare and devastating blood disorder that prevented them from developing blood platelets. But Ingo, 51, a construction worker and father of three from Münster, Germany, gave them the gift of life five and four years ago, respectively, when he donated his bone marrow through the Be The Match organization. In September, the girls were finally able to thank him in person at a Be The Match gala. “Without the transplant, they would have died,” says Michelle. “Meeting him was very emotional. There was a lot of gratitude.”
The girls had been born with the condition and it left them tired, fragile and often struggling to breathe. “For so long, we sheltered them in a bubble,” explains Michelle, 43, a Catholic school cook who lives with husband Brett, 46, a plumber and pipe fitter, the twins and their big brother, Leeroy, 13, in Minnesota City, Minn. Because of their disorder, called congenital amegakaryocytic thrombocytope-
nia (CAMT), “They weren’t allowed to ride bikes or go outside and play and jump because they couldn’t risk even getting scratched.”
But thanks to Ingo, the twins finally got to be kids. After recovering from their transplants — Elizabeth had hers first, at age 3, in May 2011, and Kathryn followed at age 4 in June 2012 — they started school, albeit a year late, and “just started taking tap dance lessons.” They put those lessons to good use at the gala. Within minutes of meeting them, Ingo, who speaks little English and communicated through a translator, grabbed the twins’ hands and hit the dance floor. “They danced the night away with him,” adds Michelle. “They had a blast.”
Ingo was just as overjoyed. “We were all crying,” says Michelle. “I kept saying, ‘Thank you,’ and Ingo would just say, ‘It’s OK.’ He was so humble.” Michelle says one highlight of the evening was hearing Ingo re- call his reaction when he found out he was a match for the twins: “He’d been on the bone marrow registry list for 30 years, hoping he could help someone,” Michelle says. “He said when he got the call at work, he just sat down on the scaffolding and cried. Someone asked if somebody had died and he said, ‘No, someone’s going to be reborn.’ For me, that showed he knew the meaning of what he was doing.”
— Reporting by Jaclyn Roth
Pepper has mastered the Blue Steel look made famous by Ben Stiller’s famous character. “He also has fluffy hair,” notes Pepper’s owner, Erin Jansen, “and a fancy model name!”
A TRUE HERO
“He means the world to us,” Michelle, mom of twins Kathryn (left) and Elizabeth, says of Ingo (with the girls at a local park the weekend they first met). “He told us that we are forever family, and that’s exactly how we feel, too.”
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER After meeting Ingo on Sept. 16, Elizabeth (center) and Kathryn “were hand in hand with him on the dance floor all night,” says their mom, Michelle.
GRUELING ORDEAL in Kathryn spent 52 days from the hospital recovering her bone marrow transplant.
RESILIENT GIRL Thanks to Ingo, Elizabeth and her sister are now “100 percent healthy,” says their grateful mom.