By Maureen Gilmer, Riley Children’s Health senior writer, email@example.com
You could say it was a match made in heaven. But in this case, the match was made on Earth, and it saved the life of a little boy from Indiana.
It was a swab of the cheek that brought together two strangers – a young woman from the East Coast named Rachel Buck and a young leukemia patient named Jacob Parry in 2019.
The two didn’t meet then (that would come two years later at a baseball game), but because of Buck’s decision as a college student to register at BeTheMatch.org, her bone marrow was tapped to save Jacob.
And that’s how it came to be that Jacob and his family were front and center for Buck’s wedding to Brandon Miller last month in Massachusetts.
There was 5-year-old Jacob, accompanied by his twin brother Jared, walking down the aisle, carrying the all-important rings for the ceremony. The two were dressed in matching white shirts, suspenders and bow ties.
Buck and Miller invited the boys and their older brother, Jackson, to be part of the big day after meeting the Parry family in 2021 and keeping in touch ever since.
“I just love them so much,” said Buck, 25. “The sheer fact that I’m rewarded with them being in my life is so amazing.”
Amazing is also the word Jacob’s parents, Jeff and Kaylie Parry, use to describe the gift that Buck has been for their family.
“What an amazing impact she has had on our family,” Kaylie said. “We are so thankful Be The Match brought us together, and we really do thank God daily for all of the amazing people he has put in our lives, including Rachel and Brandon.”
The gratitude goes both ways.
“I’m the lucky one, honestly,” Buck said. “It’s so crazy and beautiful to me that Jacob’s whole family is my family.”
Jacob was diagnosed with leukemia when he was just a baby. He went through chemotherapy at Riley Hospital for Children in preparation for a stem cell transplant in the summer of 2019. But he needed a donor.
His parents were 50% matches, as was his older brother. His twin (not identical) was a 0 out of 10 match.
Enter Rachel, who had registered with Be The Match as a student on the campus of the University of New Haven in Connecticut. It took just a minute to have her cheek swabbed and her information entered in the database.
“Cancer has struck my family, as it has so many others,” she said, “so I thought, why not register?”
She didn’t know it then, but she was a perfect match for a baby named Jacob who was fighting for his life in Indiana.
That decision four years ago would have a ripple effect. Not only did it save Jacob’s life, but it deeply affected the lives of everyone in his family and hers. And she never misses an opportunity to encourage others to register on BeTheMatch.org.
“I tell everybody to sign up for the registry. I can’t even describe the feeling you get.”
She carried that passion through to her wedding by replacing table favors for guests with cards indicating a donation for Be The Match had been made in the guest’s name.
Dr. Jodi Skiles, director of pediatric stem cell transplant and cellular therapy for Riley, said donors like Buck who are willing to put their lives on hold for a stranger don’t come around very often.
“From the word go, she was all in, whatever we needed, whenever we needed it,” Dr. Skiles said. “She is amazing, truly lovely in every way.”
For Buck, the experience has been a privilege, and she has treasured the connection she has with the Parry family.
“Last year, we went to their place and did an early Christmas,” she said. “We toured Notre Dame, watched Christmas movies, made cookies and went to a Christmas concert at their daycare.”
Jacob’s mom sends her texts occasionally – messages she calls “thank you Rachel moments.” It could be a picture of Jacob at the pool or playing with his siblings – moments they might not have had if Buck hadn’t come into their lives.
“Even when the chaos of life with three little boys is in full swing, we are so blessed to have every minute of it,” Kaylie Parry said.
Four years out from his stem cell transplant, Jacob is cancer-free and had his first appointment at the Riley Survivorship Clinic last month. His parents’ gratitude extends beyond Buck to the entire Riley team who fought to save him.
They have become “family,” his mom said in an earlier interview. “It’s such an awesome feeling that you’re not just a number. They treat you the same as they would treat their kids.”
Jacob is back to enjoying lake days with his cousins, doing chores on the farm with his grandpa and watching “Tom and Jerry” cartoons.
The kindergartner might not understand the totality of the gift he was given, but he knows he has a cool “Aunt Rachel,” and that’s enough for now.
Two families and a whole lot of love.
There couldn’t be a more perfect match.
Photos provided by the family and Emily Hwang Photography
Three-year-old cancer patient meets the woman who saved his life - Jacob Parry nearly died of leukemia, but the selfless gift of a stranger restored his health. Over the weekend, he met his superhero at a baseball game.