2 years after transplant, Kan. teen meets WV woman who saved her life

Published: Apr. 17, 2020 at 10:32 PM CDT
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The COVID-19 pandemic didn't stop a local family from personally giving thanks to the woman who selflessly saved a life to keep them together.

Friday marked the two-year- anniversary of 14-year-old Julianna Cundiff receiving a life-saving bone-marrow transplant. The donor was a stranger who lives in West Virginia. The original plan was for Julianna and her family to meet the donor, 23-year-old Loeta, in Kansas City this month. COVID-19 concerns canceled the trip, but didn't prevent an emotional meeting via FaceTime.

Joining Julianna on the call with Leota was her mother, Sarah Kriwiel, and her older sisters and brother, 23-year-old Caroline, 22-year-old Mary Kate and 19-year-old Clay. Each of the older siblings expressed gratitude for Leota, forming a new friendship.

Julianna suffered from aplastic anemia, an autoimmune disease in which the body fails to produce blood cells in sufficient numbers.The then 12-year-old was at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City when she got her life-saving transplant.

"It was definitely a crazy process," Julianna says. "But when I found out I had a donor, I was so excited. Scary process, but a really good process looking back on it now."

Kriwiel says the life-saving bone marrow arrived in Kansas City the same day Leota had her operation to donate it in Washington, D.C.

"We appreciate the sacrifice you made, taking time out of your life," Sarah says. "The joy that's come out of this is far greater than we could've imagined."

Julianna's sister, Mary Kate says the family was praying for someone like Leota to come along.

"It's unexplainable what you've given us," she says.

Leota says she didn't hesitate to be a donor when she found out she was a match. It didn't matter to her that she'd never met the girl she was helping.

She encourages anyone who hs healthy and able to do so to visit

to begin the process of becoming a donor and potentially finding a match whose life you could save. She says "it's definitely worth it."

"I'd just like to thank you again for helping me, saving me," Julianna told Leota toward the end of Friday's FaceTime conversation.

"I'm definitely glad I could do it," Leota responded.