In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

October 4, 2016

Twin Girls Dance With Donor Who Saved Their Lives

By In the Loop

The Girtlers had a joyous meeting after Ingo Gruda donated bone marrow to help save the lives of their identical twin daughters.

If you like feel-good stories, twin sisters Elizabeth and Kathryn Girtler have a good one for you. The Rochester Post-Bulletin was one of the first to report it. It's been picked up by the likes of ABC News, Inside Edition, the TODAY Show, and the New York Daily News. But for Michele and Brett Girtler, the story of their 9-year-old daughters meeting the bone marrow donor who helped save their lives will never get old. "I was looking at a picture of them the other day that was taken when they were five," Michele tells us. "They were as tall as a lawn chair. That was crazy to look back on and see." Especially since there was a time Michele and Brett weren't sure their girls would live that long.

As the Mayo Clinic News Network reports, Elizabeth and Kathryn's story began just hours after their birth, when a routine newborn screening exam revealed a problem with their blood. It wasn't until after a three-year search for answers, which ultimately led the family to Mayo Clinic, that Michele and Brett were told their daughters had been born with congenital amegakaryocytic thrombocytopenia, an "inherited disease" that prevented their bone marrow from producing enough platelets to allow for normal blood clotting. Mayo pediatric hematologist Shakila Khan, M.D., told Michele and Brett that left untreated, the disease could develop into leukemia, and that Elizabeth and Kathryn's only shot at a cure was a bone marrow transplant.

Meanwhile, a world away in Munster, Germany, Ingo Gruda was going about his life as a husband, construction worker, and father of three when his cell phone rang. The "TODAY Show" reports that Gruda had registered as a marrow donor to donate in the past, but had not been a match. This time, however, things were different. After learning he was a perfect match for Elizabeth and Kathryn, Gruda "didn't hesitate" in authorizing his bone marrow to be flown from Germany to Rochester to be transplanted into both girls.

Fast forward five years to last month, when the whole Girtler family was finally given a chance to thank Gruda in person. Officials from Be the Match had flown Gruda to Minneapolis for a special "gala event," where he was able to meet the now-healthy girls. And although the Girtlers could only communicate with Gruda through a translator, the joy and appreciation Michele and Brett felt as they watched Gruda, Elizabeth and Kathryn "dance the night away" could easily cross any language barrier.

"It was so surreal and so emotional,'' Michele tells the "TODAY Show" of meeting Gruda. "To think that somebody that didn't know your children was selfless enough to give bone marrow to save them is amazing. … The girls would not be here today without (Gruda), simple as that."

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Tags: Dr. Shakila Khan, Leukemia, Patient Stories

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