Royal Oak native meets woman she saved with vital stem cell donation

Posted at 11:18 PM, Feb 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-16 23:18:01-05

When you see Kelly Schneider and Alex Barr together, you'd think they go way back; they laugh at the same moments, seem to have inside jokes, and generally send off a vibe that they're old friends.

"Our families are both Middle Eastern, so we just have this connection. We’ve just been gabbing and eating like we know each other," Schneider told Action News at her mother's house in Bloomfield Hills on Sunday.

It's where Barr and her mother came from the Boston area to meet Schneider and her family or the very first time in person, and to say thank you, since sharing something pretty personal back in August of 2018.

"I mean, she kind of is morphing into me now that she has my DNA. That’s how this works, right?" Schneider joked.

About a year earlier, in the summer of 2017 Barr, then in graduate school in the Boston area, learned she had Leukemia for the second time.

"It was just unreal. Like I couldn’t even process it," Barr told Action News.

Barr didn't know it then, but Schneider had already signed up with Be The Match, and a national bone marrow registry, when she learned a close friend was diagnosed with cancer.

"We went and got tested and we donated blood. And unfortunately she did not survive. But after 4 or 5 months after she passed away, I got a call from Be The Match.”

That call was on behalf of Barr, hoping Schneider might be willing to donate life-saving bone marrow.

Soon after, Schneider was getting treatment to donate stem cells from her bone marrow, to save Barr's life, who was still a stranger at the time.

All Schneider knew then was that her donation was going to help a 24-year-old from Michigan.

"How could you not? If someone needs it?" She said.

"When you hear bone marrow donation that sounds scary like they’re going to drill into your bone or something," Barr said, noting that it really wasn't as intense of a procedure as some people may think.

In this case, Schneider had to get a series of shots, the stem cells were collected, and then shipped to Boston for Barr, who is now in remission.

“It’s incredible. Like, I can’t even describe. And I know that I would do the same," Barr said.

First, the two communicated communicated through the registry.

"We had been talking back and forth like online since September. I could tell that we would really hit it off," Barr told Action News.

Then, they decided to meet in person at Schneider's mother's house.

Not only do the two now share some of the same DNA, they keep finding other things they have in common.

Like a photo of Barr's cousin, which looks strikingly similar to Schneider.

“I look like her!” she said, pointing at the photo Barr brought with her.

For both Barr and Schneider, this full-circle experience is a reminder of how important the the Be The Match registry is, for the thousands of people waiting to find their life-saving donor, and just possibly, a life-long connection too.

Barr, who is now a healthy 26-year-old, is working in the health field. She works in the Hemostasis and Thrombosis Division at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), hoping to help others who have been diagnosed with potentially terminal diseases.

Barr said her experience beating Leukemia inspired her to go into the medical field as a biologist to study diseases of the blood.

She is a currently also a volunteer with Be The Match, and conducts her own registry drives as living proof of how important the registry is and how bone marrow donations can save lives.

Click here to join the register or the learn more about the Be The Match.