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

In Touch (USA) - - Real life -

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.

Pep­per Vi­taly San­ti­ago, Boca Ra­ton, Fla.

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