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A surprise letter connects a Paso Robles cancer patient with her platelet donor

Posted at 7:15 PM, Aug 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-28 00:35:46-04

Stephanie Rothbauer was diagnosed with leukemia in May 2018, and after her body became resistant to the treatments, a rare donor match helped in her fight against cancer.

"Without the blood donations and the platelet donations, I wouldn't have even been able to try, because I wouldn't have survived without them," said Rothbauer.

After she began remission, her body quickly built up a resistance to the platelets she was receiving, and needed to be specifically matched, leaving her without many options.

Her husband, Tad Rothbauer, described the process, "They HLA typed her, and found out that there's three donors, in Stanford's database, along with Dignity Health's database that she could receive platelets from, only three," said Rothbauer.

One of those three rare matches, continued to donate and when Stephanie was receiving her treatments, she wondered who that donor might be, and the donor wondered who he was helping too.

"I kept getting called over and over again, and so then when I found out it was the same person, you feel closer to it. You say wow, this person is really sick they need the platelets now. And I started to think I wonder if that person is thinking about who's this donor," said Jeff Garfinkle, Santa Barbara platelet donor.

Then one day, Stephanie found a letter.

"I wrote a letter to dear, platelet donor, dear platelet match, and said who I was without sending anything, and just wished that person well," said Garfinkle.

"As soon as I opened it, I started bawling," said Rothbauer.

That letter sparked months of emails and then a meet-up face-to-face, as the one out of three match was only living a couple of hours away in Santa Barbara.

"Instantly connected, I learned about his family, he learned about ours, and he's a pretty incredible man and is definitely a part of our lives forever," said Rothbauer.

Garfinkle and Rothbauer both want to raise awareness about how important donating can be, and they are examples of how it can change someone's life.

Rothbauer mentions that just one unit of blood can save up to three lives.