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Wanda and Robert Zimmer: gift-matching angels

Wanda Zimmer had been battling an aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. When chemotherapy couldn’t keep it under control, it was eventually determined that a blood stem cell transplant would be her best course of action.

In 2011, the search for Wanda’s donor match began. Shortly after, a 10/10 donor match had been found on the Be The Match Registry®.

Wanda and her husband, Robert, had just moved into temporary housing closer to the transplant center. It was the day before she was going to be admitted for transplant, when the phone rang. It was her doctor calling to tell her to go home—her donor match had just backed out. Wanda was devastated.

From despair to hope

Wanda and Robert drove six hours back home—what Wanda calls "the longest drive of her life." While the search for a new donor began, Wanda contracted septic shock and went into a coma and wasn’t expected to survive. Thankfully, three days later, she woke up from the coma to fantastic news: another match had been found.

"I was so nervous the cells weren’t going to show up since my first donor backed out," Wanda said. Thankfully this selfless stranger didn’t back out and when transplant day arrived, her donor’s cells were delivered by courier and dripped into her catheter. "I held tightly to the tube and gave thanks to someone I never met whose cells were flowing through me," Wanda shared.

What Wanda didn't know at the time of her transplant was that Aaron, her donor, was committed to following through no matter what. After getting the call he'd matched with a patient in need, his family asked what he was going to do. Aaron responded, "I'm going to save a life." And he did.

Today Wanda is happy and healthy and extremely grateful for her second chance at life—and of course, we at Be The Match® are too. We’re also really grateful for Wanda and Robert’s incredible generosity and support of our life-saving mission.

From hope to help

Wanda has paid it forward by giving her time as one of our trusted volunteer couriers, working as a legislative ambassador and by making big-hearted financial contributions.

And now, because she and Robert want to help other patients get financial assistance they might need to get through transplant, they’ve committed $500,000 to establish the Zimmer Family Giving Back Hope Fund, generously promising to match any gift (up to $500,000) during the month of December.

"This is our way of saying thank you," said Wanda. "We saw so many ways this support could make a difference."

The Zimmers know financial costs continue to be the number one barrier to transplant reported by families.* "We had to relocate for my transplant. Fortunately, we had insurance coverage that applied to these expenses, but we know that isn’t the norm—the same goes for donors."

From one gift to two

The best gift you could possibly give for the holidays is the gift of hope. Please help make sure patients can get the treatment they urgently need with twice the impact. Give by December 31 to get your gift matched by the Zimmers and have your donation go twice as far.

Unable to give financially at this time? Discover more ways you can support our cause to make the holidays brighter for patients and their families.

*Patient Housing Barriers to HCT study, Jaime Preussler et al. 2015