Gainesville blood marrow donor meets recipient whose life she helped save
Bobbie Jean Yonker, left, received a bone marrow donation from Jennifer Shannon. - photo by For The Times
Be the Match received more than $100,000 in donations from the fundraiser Nov. 6. - photo by For The Times

Gainesville resident Jennifer Shannon signed up with Be the Match her sophomore year of college not knowing 10 years later she would receive a call to save a woman’s life by donating bone marrow. 

Now 31, Shannon was able to meet recipient Bobbie Jean Yonker, 54 ,of Colorado, for the first time this month.

On Nov. 6, more than 250 guests attended Coregistics’ fourth annual Gears & Greens Charity Golf Tournament and Ladies Luncheon & Fashion Show at Marietta Country Club, where the two women were united.

“Jennifer is literally my angel here on earth. It was amazing meeting her and I still get goosebumps just thinking about it,” Yonker said. “I carry her blood type now. She changed my life in so many ways. The fact that I can live and be here is incredible.”

Shannon donated bone marrow in January 2016 and Yonker reached out to her in March.

“It was pretty incredible meeting her in person. You are required to wait one full year before you can make contact or know information about the individual you donate to,” Shannon said. “We spoke on the phone and since then we have texted and kept up with each other on Facebook. It was super cool to be able to meet her because a lot of people never get to meet their donors.”

Shannon said it was “super humbling to hear her story in person and see how great she looked,” and she enjoys the fun facts.

“Bobbie’s blood type changed from A positive to O negative like mine, her thyroid issues went away because she has my blood now, her hair turned curly like mine and we actually share DNA,” Shannon said.

Shannon said donating “really wasn’t a decision at all.”

“It was something I was 100 percent going to do regardless of what it took for me to go through. I don’t know how you could say no to saving someone’s life. It is the greatest thing you could ever do,” Shannon said. “You hear all the stories about donating bone marrow, how painful it can be, but a couple of days of down time for me compared to what Bobbie had been going though, it was nothing. It was an easy decision.”

Shannon said donating and being in the database is the “greatest gift you could give anyone.”

“My health didn’t change; it wasn’t painful. I donated stem cells, so I went through a dialysis process. That process was painless for me. The next day I felt no different,” Shannon said. “It really is something I think everyone should consider, being in the database and helping each other out.”

Throughout her time at Georgia College and State University, Shannon said she volunteered with Children’s Hospital in Macon and the Children’s Miracle Network.

“We did a big fundraiser every year called Dance Marathon, and my sophomore year I was on the executive committee. During Dance Marathon, we had Be the Match come out and swab anyone that wanted to. I got swabbed to be in the database,” Shannon said.

“It is one of those things that you don’t think about and forget that you ever did it until you get a phone call or letter saying you have matched someone, which is pretty cool.”

Shannon received the first call in October 2015, which was sent out to five people for additional bloodwork to find the right match.

“I did the bloodwork then got a letter a month later saying that the patient no longer needed my donation. In December they called me back and said that actually I was the best match and that they needed me to donate as soon as possible. The quicker I could do it, the better for her,” Shannon said. “There was never a hesitation on my end regardless of what it was going to entail me going through.”

Yonker, a wife and mom of two sons from Dinosaur, Colorado, suffered from extreme fatigue and headaches in June 2015 when her blood work revealed these symptoms were caused by acute myeloid leukemia.

“When it came time for my transplant, the gentleman that they had picked originally couldn’t do it because he had health issues he didn’t know about. They called Jennifer back and told her she was their only chance. I was on dialysis for about five months and it was hard,” Yonker said.

“I cannot thank Jennifer enough for being there and doing what she did. I received her donation in time, and I know in my heart that her generosity is the only reason I am now able to grow old with my husband. She saved my life. Without her, I would be dead. I am healthy, happy, doing yoga and aerobic swimming. I feel wonderful and can’t believe it after all that I went through.”

The benefit raised more than $100,000 for the largest marrow registry in the world, Be the Match.

“It is worth being out there in case someone else needs you,” Shannon said. “There are so many people out there that there aren’t matches for. It never hurts to put yourself out there and be in the system. I feel very humbled by it, because I don’t feel like I did anything great, but at the same time to think that I allowed this woman to be cancer-free, spend more time with her children and husband, friends and the rest of her family.”

The event is hosted by Coregistics, the industry’s leading packaging-centric supply chain solutions company based in Kennesaw. Created by Coregistics Founder and CEO Eric Wilhelm and his wife Deborah, the event has raised nearly a half-million dollars since its inception.

“Giving back to the communities where we live and work is at the heart of everything we do here at Coregistics,” said Eric Wilhelm. “Together, we are truly making a difference and saving lives.”

Be the Match Foundation helps match patients diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma and other life-threatening diseases with compatible donors.

“Be the Match is the only reason I am alive,” Yonker said. “Stem cell research has been the most amazing thing, and if it hadn’t been for them ,there is no way I was living. I would do anything I could possibly do to help support Be the Match. If people could put their names on that registry and save someone’s life, that is a life-giving thing that is amazing.”

For more information visit BeTheMatch.org.

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