If you live in St. Louis—or you’re simply a Blues fan—you’ve likely heard Laila Anderson’s story.
If you’re like me and you neither live in St. Louis nor follow hockey news, maybe you haven’t.
Meet Laila Anderson
Eleven-year-old Laila suffers from a rare immune disease called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH). And she’s a huge hockey fan—a Blues superfan to be precise. During last year’s hockey season, her fight with her disease became somewhat synonymous with the Blues fight toward the NHL Championship.
Laila was diagnosed in October 2018 and Be the Match, the national marrow donor program, was successful in finding a matching donor. In January 2019, she underwent her transplant surgery. In May, she was able to ring the bell at St. Louis Children’s hospital, signifying 100 days since her transplant. And she was able to make it to Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.
And still has a long road to travel, but the Blues came from behind and won the cup. We’re hoping Laila will stay strong and win her battle too.
Meet Kenton Felmlee
Unlike Laila, 19-year-old Kenton isn’t much of a sports fan.
“I’m not a huge hockey fan, and I don’t watch the news as much as I would’ve liked to,” the University of Kansas sophomore admits.
And that could be because he is busy studying to be a doctor.
When he was in high school, both Kenton’s father and a teacher donated marrow and helped save a life. This inspired him so he joined the Be the Match Donor Registry.
“Had my cheek swabbed and that was it,” he said. “They sent it away for testing.”
And to his surprise, in just a few months, he was informed his sample was a perfect match for someone. The stats of finding a match are low, only 1 in 430, so his surprise is understandable.
But this was also a time of turmoil. While undergoing a few more tests to be certain the match was real, he had to wait, wondering if the delay could cost a life.
“Every single step was excruciating in waiting and wondering how the recipient was doing,” he said. “It takes a toll emotionally, even one you never thought you’d take on.”
In January, he had the surgery done to extract his marrow, never knowing the recipient was someone hockey fans around the world were rallying around and offering support.
It wasn’t until November 2019 that he learned his donation had helped save the life of young Laila Anderson.
Laila Anderson and Kenton Felmlee Finally Meet
On December 5th, at a Be the Match fundraiser in St. Louis, the two finally met in person for the first time. But even before that, the two were building a bond.
Kenton admits that while Laila has been a huge inspiration to the city of St. Louis, she’s also quite an inspiration to him.
“She was an inspiration to me even before I knew her name,” he said. “There are plenty of times I’d be having a rough day and think back and think, ‘There’s somebody out there who is counting on me.'”
As for Laila, she is sure the two of them are going to be best friends. A few nights after meeting they were able to attend a game together.
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