It was a tough decision for 7-year-old, Gabriel Smith, between going to Disney World, and meeting his bone marrow donor from Germany, but in the end he chose well.
The Springfield, Illinois, resident told Make-A-Wish, Illinois, which helps create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses, he wanted to meet his bone marrow donor, Dennis Gutt, a 25-year-old carpenter from Germany.
Gabriel’s mother, Lauren Smith said, “Gabriel wanted to take Dennis to meet Mickey Mouse,” she added that he picked meeting his donor over going to Disney World.
Make-A-Wish arranged for Gutt to fly from Germany, Schuby, to Illinois to meet Gabriel and his family. Smith said that as Gutt came out of the hotel elevator, they stared at him and Gabriel got stage fright and couldn’t move or talk. So then, “Dennis came right over and gave him a big handshake and hug and then Gabriel warmed up to him.”
Smith and her husband couldn’t get over the initial days when Gabriel was very sick as an infant. After his birth in 2012, Gabriel received a blood transfusion and then had to be taken immediately to the children’s hospital in St. Louis, 2 hours from their home in Springfield.
Gabriel needed many blood and platelet transfusions in the first year that he was sick, and doctors concluded he would need a bone marrow transplant, so his family and community checked to see if they were a match. But, it was Gutt, who was a perfect match for the 2013 transplant at the age of 19 years old. They found Dennis through the Be the Match registry and all they were allowed to know about him was that he was a 19-year-old boy from Europe, Smith said.
Gabriel was hospitalized from August 2013 to February 2014, and had the transplant on Oct. 16, 2013, at the age of 14 months. Smith says, if the transplant did not take place then then Gabriel wouldn’t have been alive. Now Gabriel is perfectly well and a very active second grader.
But the family always wondered who that kind stranger was who saved their son’s life, they just called him “the superhero,” but in the year 2015, the Smiths were allowed to learn Gutt’s name. She found Gutt on Facebook and began interacting on social media with him. “I couldn’t believe I found the person who saved Gabriel’s life,” she said. “Back when he got the transplant, we couldn’t believe that the donor was only 19, that somebody who was 19 years old saved our son’s life.”
Gutt said that “I saved another person’s life because I donated something which regrows up in my body in a few weeks,” Gutt said. He spent several days in Springfield with the family and eating at their favorite restaurants and doing some sight seeing in the city.
The Smiths also took him to St. Louis, where Gabriel was treated, and to Chicago, where they played a baseball game, visited museums and had lots of Gutt’s favorite ice cream. It was Gutt’s first time in the United States and also it was the first time the Smith family had a vacation together. “The connection was immediate. Immediately we were like family,” Smith said of meeting Gutt. “It was the craziest thing I’ve experienced. He’s part of our family now.”
For Gabriel too, the best part of the week was meeting Gutt and spending time with him. Gutt said the Smiths were the family he never had. “It’s like an invisible rope connected you to a family from other side of the world,” he said. “I felt since the first moment like a part of their family. We bonded immediately and I hope forever too. That’s my wish.”
Gutt brought a wooden box filled with photos of himself as a child and German money and other trinkets for Gabriel from Germany, and also gave Gabriel magnetic blocks that the young boy has been playing with since Gutt left for Germany. They plan on being in touch with him through social media and phone calls till he visits again. “We have plans that if we ever do get to Disney World, he’s coming with us,” Smith said. “We want him to go because he deserves everything that we can do for him.”
The Smith family is grateful to Make-A-Wish and hope their story of Gabriel and Gutt helps others join Be the Match registry. “If we could save one life through this, someone sees this and signs up and is a match, then we’ve done what we wanted to do,” Smith said.
This is a wonderful story of kindness shown by Gutt to a total stranger from across the world through Be the Match registry, the world needs many more people like Gutt to transform and make it more beautiful.