Four Years After Diagnosis, a Leukemia Survivor Meets the Donor Who Saved Her Life

Mandy Manocchio-Putney's odds looked bleak. Then along came Magda Kruger.

Mandy and Magda

Mandy, left, and Magda in front of Dana-Farber/Photo provided

When Mandy Manocchio-Putney was diagnosed with myeloid leukemia in 2013, doctors told her she’d need a stem cell transplant to survive. In the same breath, however, they told her that locating a suitable donor would be like finding a needle in a haystack.

“We were told my time was really limited,” she remembers. “When I was first diagnosed, they really set the bar low.”

The case was unique. Though she’s of Korean descent, Manocchio-Putney was adopted by an Italian-American family as a baby, making her relatives unsuitable matches. And because of her heritage, finding a match on the mostly-Caucasian donor registry wouldn’t be easy, either. To top it all off, Manocchio-Putney’s father had died after the very same procedure 20 years earlier, raising the emotional stakes.

With the situation looking bleak, Manocchio-Putney decided to move from New York to her native Boston, so she could spend what time she had left with her family, and seek treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

And then along came Magda Kruger, a then-25-year-old from Germany.

Against all odds, and despite their different backgrounds, Kruger turned out to be a perfect match. Manocchio-Putney got the news on her birthday, and underwent a successful stem cell transplant shortly thereafter.

Last week, almost exactly four years after her diagnosis, Manocchio-Putney finally got the chance to say thank you in person, when Kruger visited her in Boston for the first time.

“When I saw Magda for the first time, I felt like I already knew her,” Manocchio-Putney says. “The whole week’s been surreal, the whole experience. How do I begin to thank someone who saved my life?”

For Kruger, however, seeing Manocchio-Putney healthy is thanks enough. “I just wanted to help somebody, and that’s all,” she says. “If there’s people I can help, I just want to.”

Today, the duo is urging anyone who’s able to join the donor list. They’re also trying to educate the public about the donation process, which requires no surgery and works like a blood transfusion. “I can do it again, and I will do it again,” Kruger says.

It’s only because of that selfless spirit, Manocchio-Putney stresses, that she’s still here and healthy today.

“We can sit here together and tell people, ‘Go do it,'” Manocchio-Putney says. “Get swabbed. Save a life.”