Blood Brothers for life
News Report Staff
One is 31 years old; the other 10.
One is about 6’6”; the other 5’1”.
One has never played baseball; the other wants to be a Major Leaguer.
One is a mechanical engineer for BMW; the other a fifth grader at St. Anthony Grade School.
One lives in Munich, Germany; the other in Effingham, Illinois.
They’ve met just once.
But they are Blood Brothers for life.
How can that be?
One had leukemia and was in desperate need of a transplant.
The other graciously offered his bone marrow for the procedure.
“How do you repay someone for something like that?” asked Jami Johnson. “There’s no way.”
And she’s right. There are no words or actions that can repay the gift of life.
But on Sunday, Aug. 27, 10-year-old Luke Johnson, his parents Rick and Jami and his siblings, Jacob, Lucy and Owen, had the opportunity to say “thank you” when Andreas Schliechter, the donor, visited their home in rural Effingham.
When the doorbell rang, Luke opened the front door.
“Are you Luke?” asked the tall German standing in the doorway.
“Yes, I am,” Luke quickly responded with that infectious smile of his.
A second later, there were no words. Just a great big hug.
It has been eight years since Luke was initially diagnosed with leukemia; more than 4½ years since the transplant; and nearly 2½ years since discovering who the donor was and making the initial contact.
“In the United States, you only have to wait one year before you can find out who the donor is. But in Europe, it’s two years,” Jami explained. “We wanted to know, so we contacted the hospital, who served as the liaison and contacted the Registry.”
A couple weeks later, they received an email from Barnes Children’s Hospital.
“All it had was the name Andreas and an email address. That was it,” Jami noted.
So in April 2015, the first email was sent.
“We introduced ourselves, said we were thinking about him and thanked Andreas for saving Luke’s life,” Jami said. “We included photos of Luke, including one taken the day of the transplant. We told him all about Luke and that we lived in America.”
A couple weeks later, a response was received and a new friendship began.
“He was curious about Luke, too. He was even nice enough to translate his response into English,” Jami said. “We found out he’s very active. His job with BMW takes him all over the world. We also discovered from the beginning that he is a very nice and a very humble person.”
The Johnsons also found out what motivated Andreas to join the Bone Marrow Registry.
“It was because a young girl in his community high school needed a bone marrow transplant,” Jami explained. “Unfortunately, that girl didn’t find a match. So she also has a special place in our heart. Without her, we wouldn’t have Andreas.”
Communications continued the next two years. The Johnsons had been saving for a family trip to Germany in hopes of meeting Andreas.
But in July, Andreas informed them he was coming to America and would like the opportunity to meet Luke and his family.
“I just started crying,” Jami admitted. “We told him wherever they wanted to meet and whatever they wanted to do, everything was on us. But Andreas responded – ‘What I did for Luke brought me so much joy. No gift is necessary.’”
Andreas and two friends flew into Canada, went camping, saw Niagara Falls and then drove to Bowling Green, Ohio, to pick up another friend. They had all been childhood friends and were with Andreas during his transplant.
“He wanted to know if his friends could come along. They wanted to share this time with him,” Jami recalled. “We told him ‘your friends are our friends’ and insisted they stay with us.”
The only thing Andreas requested was an American BBQ meal. So the Johnsons had BBQ ribs, chicken wings, cheesy potatoes and all the trimmings that night for supper.
There was a lot of talking and getting to know one another that night in the Johnson home. Plus, Luke taught Andreas and his friends how to play baseball and they showed off some of their soccer moves.
And there were a few gifts exchanged.
Andreas brought Luke a soccer jersey with his name on the back, plus a small music box that plays the German tune “So a day as beautiful as today.” Luke plays that every night just before he goes to bed.
Luke autographed a baseball and gave to Andreas, along with a watch that had engraving on the back – “Blood Brothers Forever; Luke & Andreas; 1/12/13” (the date of the transplant).
The following morning, Andreas and his friends were given a tour of St. Anthony Church and the grade school Luke attends.
“When we introduced them to Andreas, every one of them gave him a hug,” Jami said. “I asked Andreas if he was used to getting hugs like that and he said no. But he got a lot of hugs that day.
“He was blown away by all the community support we received,” Jami added. “Plus he was surprised to hear that everyone was not only praying for Luke, but also for him. He was just in awe of all that.”
Less than 24 hours after arriving, it was time for Andreas to leave. They had tickets to a Chicago Cubs game, but promised to cheer for the Pirates after discovering that Luke and his family are big-time Cardinal fans.
“Saying goodbye was the hardest thing ever,” Jami admitted. “That’s when the emotions really hit. A lot of tears were shed in the parking lot.
Yes, the visit was short. But it’s a memory that will last forever.
The next day, the Johnson family received an email from Andreas. It read:
“We loved to stay with you last night and it was just awesome. It was really great getting to know you. Knowing I did exactly the right thing for the right people…for Luke…is a great feeling. When I first wrote you, I quoted Amstrong: it was only a small step for me but a big step for Luke.
“Knowing how much effort and force it took for Luke, you, your family and whole Effingham for fighting his cancer is just wonderful and inspiring for me as well as my friends. And I’m very happy that finally my little step was the key to win that fight! Luke is just a wonderful little boy who definitely deserved all steps which were undertook to keep him alive and now can just do what he is: being a little boy with a wonderful mother, father, family and community.”
Today, Luke is your typical 10-year-old. Baseball is his favorite sport and he was quick to point out his team, The Elks, were the Khoury League champions in 2016, and that he was named Most Improved Player.
Luke is no longer on medications and now only visits the hospital once a year.
“We’re grateful every day for what God has done for us,” Jami said. “We’ve learned a lot. What if Andreas hadn’t answered God’s call? Where would Luke be now? God gives us those little nudges. We just have to listen and respond. We are God’s hands and feet.”
And this case, that nudge resulted in a perfect match. There are 10 separate markers that help determine compatibility. Andreas’ markers were a perfect 10-for-10 with Luke.
“The transplant was nearly flawless,” Jami said. “Luke only had to take the anti-rejection medicine for six months. Now, he doesn’t have to take anything.”
And how special was it meeting Andreas?
“It was one of the best days ever,” Luke said. “He’s my buddy for life.”