Face of Defense: Employee Aids Leukemia Patient
By Karl Weisel
Special to American Forces Press Service
U.S. ARMY GARRISON WIESBADEN, Germany, Nov. 30, 2009 For 102nd Signal Battalion telephone technician Alexander Weber-Fetscher, June 22, 2007, will be remembered as the day he welcomed a new life into the world and helped to save another.
Maike Siemer meets Alexander Weber-Fetscher during a surprise visit by the stem cell donor. His donation helped her to recover from leukemia. U.S. Army photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
That's the day his son was born and also the day he learned he was an ideal match as a stem cell blood donor for a young leukemia patient.
"The same day as my son was born there was a letter at my house," Weber-Fetscher recalled, explaining he had registered with the German Bone Marrow Donor bank in Koblenz in 1994 after seeing a German television program seeking a donor for a 4-year-old boy.
While he wasn't a match for the 4-year-old, he did come up as a match for another patient five years ago. "But they didn't take me," Weber-Fetscher said, explaining that the series of blood tests matches an initial four blood markers, and if successful, doctors take more blood and try to match an additional six markers of the donor with the patient in need of a transfusion.
Weber-Fetscher, who lives in the town of Spall near Bad Kreuznach, has worked for the U.S. Army since 1999. Initially he worked with the 410th Base Support Battalion before joining the 102nd Signal Battalion. He shifted to Baumholder when the Bad Kreuznach military community closed.
When notified he was a match for a young German girl in 2007, Weber-Fetscher was sent a package that he took to his doctor for another blood test. He then was invited to visit the Red Cross office in Frankfurt, where he was examined to ensure he was healthy enough for the donation.
In preparation, Weber-Fetscher had to administer four injections a day for five days to stimulate the growth of more stem cells in his blood. The cells were then filtered out of his blood during the donation process.
The story could have ended there, because donors are not allowed to have information about or contact with the recipient for two years. But after two years of recovery, Kristina, the grateful mother of Maike Siemer, now a 16-year-old still living in the northern German town of Lähnden, wrote to the organization where Weber-Fetscher was registered. After email correspondence between Weber-Fetscher and Kristina, it was arranged that he and his family would travel to Niedersachsen in Lower Saxony to surprise the girl.
"It was emotional, indescribable, beautiful," Weber-Fetscher said, in describing the wave of emotions felt by both him and the Siemer family during the get-together. After years of struggling with the disease, Maike made rapid strides following the stem cell donation.
"She said, 'Oh my God.' She was overwhelmed," Weber-Fetscher said in recalling Maike’s reaction to meeting him.
In gratitude, Kristina later contacted a German TV show that features lifesaving stories. Weber-Fetscher agreed to participate in a re-enactment sequence for the program.
Weber-Fetscher’s colleague, Aizaz Husain, saw the program, "Visite," on North German television.
"It was great, what he did," Hussain said of Weber-Fetscher’s unselfish efforts in helping to save a young girl's life.
While bone marrow donations have the reputation of being a sometimes painful process, Weber-Fetscher said modern techniques have improved the process and, in his case, it was relatively painless because he donated stem-cell enriched blood, rather than marrow from his spinal column.
(Karl Weisel works in the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden public affairs office.)