Two families merged over the weekend as a 14-year-old boy finally got to meet the bone marrow donor who saved his life nearly two years ago.
Jack Eppley, of Ohio, was diagnosed with blood cancer when he was just 11 and doctors eventually told the Eppley family that Jack would need a stem cell transplant. It was a life-or-death situation.
Complete bone marrow matches are rare, and none of Jack’s immediate family turned out to be matches.
Once doctors searched the Be the Match Registry, a national registry dedicated to helping patients receive bone marrow transplants, it emerged that Jack had just two complete matches out of 27 million people.
One of them was Mike Reilly, who lives in Boston. This past weekend, Jack and Reilly were able to meet for the first time.
“We were just so very grateful,” Kacey Huffman, Jack’s mom, told InsideEdition.com. “We knew that there were two matches on the registry but knowing that there are two matches doesn’t mean that everything is going to go smoothly. Those two matches have to agree.”
Mike Reilly had entered himself onto the registry 19 years before at the prompting of his father.
"My father, 19 years ago, said, 'Hey, get off the couch. We are going to up the street to Grace Lutheran Church in New Hampshire, There’s a kid in town with leukemia — let’s go see if we are a match,'" Reilly said.
After 45 minutes and a couple of vials of blood, Reilly was permanently on the registry.
It wasn’t until 2016, however, that his decision all those years ago would come full circle.
“I kind of forgot that I had done it and then fast forward 19 years later I got a letter sent to my home and it said, ‘You’re a match with an 11-year-old boy in the United States; will you go forward?'” Reilly said. “The letter was the heaviest piece of paper I’ve ever held in my life because in that one sheet of paper was Jack’s life. I am a father of two and I had to say yes.”
After confirmation testing, Reilly had marrow removed from his body on June 8, 2016. Jack received a stem cell infusion the next day. It saved his life.
Donors and recipients, however, aren’t able to meet each other until a year after the donation takes place, so it wasn’t until 2017 that the families spoke on the phone for the first time.
“Jack was pretty nervous and as soon as Mike started talking it was instant smiles and connection,” Craig Eppley, Jack’s dad, said.
Recently the family decided they wanted to get together.
JetBlue graciously donated flights to Boston for the Eppley family. Staff at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, who Reilly has a relationship with through his job at Boston Duck Tours, helped make the meeting a memorable one.
The family arrived to the hotel in a limo and stepped out of the vehicle to meet Reilly for the first time.
“It was pretty amazing," Jack said. "I can’t really describe just how incredible it was because it’s like, 'How are you going to thank a person who literally went and saved your life?' It’s just an incredible experience."
The families have now become very close and know they will be in each other lives for years to come.
“When I first met him, I said 'bring it in buddy' and I gave him a big old hug. I was so happy to meet him so I am just grateful, really grateful,” Reilly said. “I have two children. They have my cells. There is no other person in the world that has those cells expect Jack. He’s my second son.”
You can register to become bone marrow donor at bethematch.org