Leukemia survivor meets woman who saved her life


The last four years have been difficult for a Kailua woman.     

In 2014, Sue Gourlay was diagnosed with leukemia and she was able to beat it.

But in March of 2017, she received devastating news.

“I had just come back from a flight and the following morning I went down to take a blood test and there it was back again,” Gourlay said.  “The first time was frightening,” she added.  “The second time it was, I was absolutely determined I wouldn’t let it beat me.”

Her doctors told her she wouldn’t survive without a bone marrow transplant. 

So Gourlay moved to a hospital in Seattle, which could provide the services she needed. 

“Of course transplant is such a huge thing having to leave your home and your friends,” Gourlay said.  “I remember when I was waiting it was terrible.”

But after a few months, Gourlay’s wait was over.

She found her perfect match.

Her bone marrow donation came from Rachel Gaines of Washington D.C.

The two women underwent surgery in July of 2017, and this week, they met for the first time when Gaines flew to Honolulu.

Gaines says the decision to donate her bone marrow was easy.  “No needle was going to be too difficult to handle as long as I know that I’m helping and doing the right thing for someone else,” Gaines said.

The former strangers are now connected forever.

“I could not stop looking at her.  You know it’s just I couldn’t believe I’m standing here I am alive because of Rachel,” Gourlay said.  “The best thing is Rachel has given me back to my family and all of my friends and everybody and you know the hope of being able to go back to work soon.”

“I’m in the right place doing the right thing at the right moment and if nothing else went well in my life down the road if everything was crazy I know that I’m here for a purpose,” Gaines said.

According to the Hawaii Bone Marrow Registry, every year, more than 12,000 patients in the U.S. are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases such as leukemia or lymphoma.

A bone marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant from an unrelated donor may be their best or only hope of a cure.

About 70 percent of patients in need of a transplant do not have a matching donor in their family.

They depend on the Be The Match Registry to find an unrelated donor or umbilical cord blood unit.

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