Related by Blood

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This is the story of an encounter between two people who live thousands of miles apart, but are forever united by the blood they share. In 2016, Samuel Nerlich of Hellmann East Europe donated stem cells to the DKMS, saving the life of Daniella Melleli, who lives in Chile. In November 2018, the two met in Daniella’s home country and deepened their unique connection.

Although both live afar from each other, Samuel Nerlich and Daniella Melleli seem to have a strong connection. So far they have only been in contact via WhatsApp or e-mail, now they are in physical contact. Samuel is tall, wears a beard and short shorn hair, Daniella is rather small, a little pale and has black, long hair. They are not quite similar in appearance, but consider themselves siblings, because they share the same blood.

“There’s nothing more important and beautiful than saving a man’s life. And you don’t have to do anything about it except give a little blood (blood plasma).”Samuel Nerlich

Daniella was diagnosed with aplastic anemia at the age of nine, a disease similar to leukemia. Her life was now severely restricted. After immunosuppressive treatment with strong medications, she was able to overcome the disease. The good financial situation of her family helped her to finance the expensive medication. The doctors said that although the disease was on the retreat, it could return from one day to the next. Daniella lived a normal life for 15 years. She graduated from school and studied interior design.

In 2014, the disease suddenly reappeared, stronger and more aggressive than before. The symptoms forced the young woman to give up her job and go back to therapy, accompanied by anaemia, weight gain and constant pain. To survive, she had to rely on regular blood transfusions, which is a moderate problem in the Andes country, where willingness to donate leaves much to be desired.

The doctors advised Daniella to have a blood transplant, which was the only way to defeat the disease permanently. So she decided to send a blood sample to the database of DKMS (a German based non-profit organization striving to defeat blood cancer), which searches internationally for suitable bone marrow and stem cell donors. Afterwards a waiting period of tormenting two years followed.

A new life for Daniella Melleli

Then in April 2016 the good news: “I remember exactly. I went to the doctor and he said: It looks like your blood is very compatible in Germany, we have a donor“, recalls Daniella Melleli. Samuel Nerlich’s blood plasma then travelled from Frankfurt to Santiago de Chile. The transplantation was carried out successfully on April 26, 2016. On this day a new life began for Daniella Melleli.

Daniella owes her second life to the DKMS, but above all to Samuel Nerlich. To the father of two children, Chile has been a blank page until now. The only thing he associated with the country was the footballer Arturo Vidal. But this should change now, because for him the donation was connected with an obligation. Since he knew that the transplantation was successful, it was a special concern for the Hellmann East Europe employee to get to know the woman, who is now running his blood through her veins.

Following the medical protocols of the DKMS, there is a two-year contact ban. After this, DKMS gave the possibility of exchanging the contact data mutually. On June 17, 2018 Samuel Nerlich received the first e-mail from Daniella, which marked the beginning of a very special relationship. Although they didn’t know each other and despite the great distance they felt directly connected: “It means a lot to me, because I didn’t help Daniella much to live a normal life again, and I felt like I had known her for a long time before. That’s why I always say: “She’s my little sister,” says the happy donor.

On Saturday, November 10, Samuel Nerlich finally flew to Chile to meet Daniella personally. After almost 17 hours he got off the plane and was welcomed by the local DKMS colleagues. The meeting between Samuel Nerlich and Daniella was planned as part of a DKMS media campaign. Daniella did not know anything about the planned meeting. On Monday morning the first meeting took place on Chilean television. When both saw each other for the first time, they broke out in tears of joy. A long and intimate embrace followed: “Now that we have met, the connection is unbreakable, Samuel is an inseparable part of my life, I am his sister, he is my brother. I will never forget what he did for me,” Daniella says in tears. When they took off on November 17, it was already clear to them that they will see each other again soon.

DKMS – become a Donor and save a Life!

Only a third of patients find a suitable donor within their families. The majority of patients require an unrelated donor. The probability of finding a suitable donor outside of one’s own family is between one in 20,000 and one in several million. Sometimes no one is found, even among several millions. That is why DKMS needs you!

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