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Cancer survivor meets blood stem cell donor that saved her life

Posted at 11:47 PM, Mar 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-10 00:47:07-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Corpus Christi resident Ticia Hanisch was faced with something too many people have to hear, a cancer diagnosis. Although scared, she had hope. That hope - located many miles away in Germany - helped her find a blood stem cell donation that saved her life.

On Thursday March 9, Hanisch and her blood stem cell donor, Dominik Brandenburg, finally were able to met in person after he saved her life three years ago.

At a routine doctors appointment in the fall of 2019, Hanisch found she had abnormal blood work. After nine weeks of monitoring it, she was referred to a specialist.

After her first bone marrow biopsy, she was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS). That quickly worsened to Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).

"The fact that my leukemia was high risk and aggressive made it even scarier and my survival rate was more dismal," Hanisch said.

Hanisch qualified and participated in a clinical trial, but it proved unsuccessful. She was told her last chance was a blood stem cell transplant.

“He told us up front (that) a third of the patients don’t survive the transplant,” Hanisch said speaking about a conversation with her doctor at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

According to their website, DKMS is an international nonprofit that is the largest blood stem cell donation center for blood cancers and disorders in the world.

Brandenburg signed up with DKMS in 2018 after some encouragement from a friend. A year later, he got the call.

“It was an amazing feeling, but it feels so far away I didn’t know if my blood is the same like the patient,” he said.

To match donor and recipient, it requires a genetic twin, two people with similar DNA, not blood type.

Hanisch had many questions about trying the blood stem cell transplant: Was she too old? Will insurance cover it? Will she find a match?

Hanisch and Brandenburg ended up being a great match.

All that was required of Bradenburg were a few shots to increase his stem cell count in the days before donation. Then, for him, it was a simple blood draw.

"Generally, it's five and a half hours or two and a half Netflix movies to donate," Hanisch said. But Dominik said when he met me on Facetime and he saw how petite I was, that he understood why he got to home after two hours."

After one setback, the procedure worked. After having her blood stem cell transplant in 2020 and a minor setback, Hanisch was given a clean bill of health a year later.

"I (was) given a second chance at life, just incredible," Hanisch said.

For two years the two of them communicated anonymously. Then in August 2021, the two were able to Facetime for the first time. Hanisch said it involved many tears.

Hanisch wanted to go meet Bradenburg in his hometown outside Cologne, Germany, however her health and COVID-19 prevented her from doing so.

“We saw so often on Facetime, but to see you here, with Marty (Hanisch's husband), at your home it’s unbelievable,” Brandenburg said.

When KRIS 6 News asked her how it felt to finally meet Brandenburg for the first time, Hanisch said that it felt like, "joy in every fiber of your body".

Now standing face to face, they realize they have each other for the rest of their lives.

“It will be very special for me for the whole time of my life,” Brandenburg said.

“Oh gosh it will be for me too. For the rest of my life,” Hanisch said.

The two of them hope their story can bring more attention to blood stem cell donations.

"It's an unbelievable feeling when you can spend the stem cells..." Brandenburg said. "It's not a big deal for me to do that and everyone should do a registration because it's so easy to do that."

DKMS is always looking for those that can donate blood stem cells. Anyone in good health between the ages of 18 and 55 can order a free at-home swab kit. Interested donors can do so here.

"How many people in our lifetime can say we saved a life, just by a simple cheek swab," Hanisch said.

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