The American visitors posed at the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining piece of what was once the Berlin Wall. Pictured are Lisa Stovall, Beth Clark, Blair Clark, and Buddy Dollarhite.
Guenther and Buddy shared an emotional hug at the airport, which also brought their friends and new "family" to tears.
Guenther's family: his dad, his mother, his wife Stephanie, and Guenther.
Giving thanks for the gift of life
By Cindy Griffith
Three years ago a Stuart man was searching for someone who would be a bone marrow donor to give him life. Little did he know that someone had donated bone marrow to a registry in 2008 that was a "near-perfect" match.
In June of this year donor and receiver met...in Germany.
Stuart Volunteer Fire Department Chief Buddy Dollarhite had been diagnosed on Dec. 3, 2007 with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).
On Saturday, April 2, 2011, members of the department hosted a bone marrow drive at the fire department in hopes of finding a match for Buddy as well as others who might find themselves in the same situation. Buddy's two brothers had been tested and neither was a match for all the criteria. There had not been a match found on the National Marrow Donor Program's registry, "Be the Match." In 2011 there were over eight million people registered on the donor program's registry.
However, around the first part of May, a "near-perfect" match was found internationally. All of the markers matched up well, plus Buddy and his donor also had the same blood type, which is not usually the case. Buddy's donor was only two years younger which was another positive.
"It was God's grace that brought all of this together, " said the humble man, whose life has been dedicated to serving others through community and church activities.
Buddy had his bone marrow transplant on June 16, 2011, at the Medical College of Virginia (MCV) and was released on July 5. But his donor was still unknown, a fact that couldn't be released for a year, so he thought at the time. When that year was approaching, he found out the protocol for international donors was two years. So he anxiously awaited for another year to pass.
"I just wanted to be able to contact this person and thank him for my gift of life," Buddy said, "but the waiting was hard."
In July 2013 Buddy found out the name of his donor and in September, after all the procedures, policies and paperwork had been done--which included Buddy making the request, the request sent to the donor through the hospital to the registry and back, Buddy was able to write a thank you letter to Guenther Beisser, who lives with his wife, Stephanie, and baby daughter, Anna, born in July of this year.
E-mails flew back and forth from Stuart and Kirchasch, Germany, a small town like Stuart, which is a 45-mile train ride from Munich, Germany.
The two wanted to meet, but by the time this was decided, Stephanie was pregnant, so Buddy, an already seasoned traveler, began to make plans to go to Germany.
Included in these plans were friends who had been through the entire process with Buddy, from his diagnosis to this point--Lisa Stovall, and Beth and Blair Clark--made plans to accompany him. Schedules had to be checked, vacation time had to be requested, and a date had to be chosen. On June 12 of this year, they left from Charlotte, N.C., and flew non-stop, arriving in Munich on June 16.
Buddy said he was a bit nervous about meeting Guenther even though an easy rapport had flowed between them in their e-mails. Guenther is an industrial electrician. In one of Guenther's e-mails to Buddy he mentioned that he was very busy completing the construction of his house when Buddy's transplant was going on.
When the house was completed, he said he was sitting with his mother talking about his donation of bone marrow for this, at the time, unknown person. He said his mother looked at him and softly said, "you have a brother now." Guenther has a sister who lives not far from Munich. In his e-mail Guenther noted that it all became real to him at that time.
Guenther had his bone marrow tested for an eight-year-old-girl in a drive similar to the one held in Stuart by the Stuart Volunteer Fire Department for Buddy.
He wasn't a match for her, but she did find a match and is doing well, Buddy noted. (And, yes, Buddy did visit the fire department) So, Guenther's bone marrow was available for Buddy. "It was just another part of God's Grace," Buddy said quietly.
In the donation of blood marrow, Buddy explained, two complete sets are done, and the second one frozen in the event some of the same may be needed at a later time. As far as side effects he may have received through Guenther's bone marrow?
"I now have seasonal allergies," he said, which he got from Guenther that he didn't have before. "But it's okay."
After their arrival in Munich, the four travelers spent time there sightseeing and giving Buddy some time to get his emotions in check.
"I had decided that I wasn't going to be emotional when I met him," Buddy said. Not knowing the culture or the man who was two years younger, "I just had planned to greet him like a new friend, thank him, and spend some time with him and his family."
On June 17--three years and one day after Buddy's transplant--he arrived to meet Guenther and family.
"I knew him immediately when I saw him," Buddy said, "and I walked toward him. I was controlling my emotions okay until he hugged me crying, and I lost it, too, at that point." (This writer, too, "lost it" several times at this point.)
Lodging for Buddy's group was in Stephanie's parents' guest house and restaurant, just down the street within walking distance from Guenther and Stephanie's home. They were there for six days and were always together during this time. They toured the area together, ate together, and even went to a wedding reception together, invited by the bride's father and the bride.
"We were treated so much like family," he said, "and the people there was just like being home here."
As in many cases, all good things had to come to an end. But Guenther wanted Buddy to return to celebrate Guenther's 40th birthday in 2015. Buddy is hoping to make that trip back, and plans are in the works for the family to come here when Anna is two or three years older.
The scene at the Munich airport when Guenther took the group to fly back was an emotional one between Buddy and Guenther, as is evidenced by one of the pictures included with this story. "It was much more emotional than the one when we first met," he said, as tears glazed his eyes, "and that one was pretty emotional."
This holiday season is already a great one for Buddy Dollarhite. He definitely knows the true meaning of Christmas.
"God's grace," he said, "made all of this possible."
(Writer's note: And to you and your family, Guenther, we wish a very Merry Christmas, and thank you for the gift of life and love you so willingly and unknowingly gave to Stuart, Virginia, USA's, dear friend, Buddy. We know you have a copy of the first story on Buddy because he told me you showed it to him, and will have a copy of this. May the God that connects us all continue to bless you and your family. He gave us all the perfect gift at Christmas.)