Four years ago, when she was just seven, Emma Duffin was told she may not make it to her eighth birthday.
She and her parents, Allyson and Brian, thought she just had a bad case of strep throat.
But her blood tests revealed something far more sinister: her hemoglobin count was three – which is fatal in adults – and further scans confirmed that meant she had acute undifferentiated leukemia, a rare form of blood cancer.
Their only hope was to get a bone marrow transplant to replace Emma’s failing immune system with that of something else.
In desperation the family had swab tests to determine whether anyone would be a match for Emma – and her older brother Alex, then 11, proved to be an identical match.
The brave schoolboy underwent an extraction at Connecticut Children’s Hospital in September 2014. After nine months in recovery, Emma was given the all clear – and remains in remission four years on.
Now, to honor their four-year anniversary, Emma is sharing a photo of the moment she saw Alex for the first time after the operation, jumping up onto his hospital bed to give him a kiss.
The moment Emma saw Alex for the first time after the operation in September 2014, she jumped up onto his hospital bed to give him a kiss (pictured)
Made it through: Their family, Brian, Allyson, Emma and Alex, were told Emma might not make it – but then they found Alex was a perfect match
Fighting fit: Now Emma is in remission, playing with friends and playing sports
‘He’s not my hero, he’s an angel disguise. I was so very grateful,’ Emma said.
‘I feel awesome!’
According to Alexander, he didn’t hesitate to step up. At such a young age, he wasn’t quite sure what was wrong with Emma, but he knew he would do anything to save her.
‘When she became sick I didn’t know a lot about leukemia,’ he said.
‘I heard that she needed a donor, and when I heard that she needed a match and I could do that for her I was very happy.
‘Then in June she was pronounced cancer free. When I heard it I felt really blessed that she could go to school again and spend time with her friends.’
Proud father Brian, 47, a global supply chain manager, said even thinking about what they went through gives him chills today.
‘It was devastating at the time. I don’t think any parent is prepared for that kind of diagnosis,’ he said.
Alexa didn’t hesitate to step up. At such a young age, he wasn’t quite sure what was wrong with Emma, but he knew he would do anything to save her
Four years after Emma’s cancer, the duo are back to bickering like all other siblings
Emma in hospital while undergoing a stem cell transplant
‘But from that day forward we said, “We know that this is treatable, and that it will require a bone marrow transplant, but we know that we can deal with this”.’
‘That was our attitude.
‘[Alex] was obviously very nervous and scared, but we left the decision to do the transplant completely up to him.
‘We didn’t want to force him into anything, but he was very willing. He knew what was at stake.
‘He loves his sister, so he wanted to donate his bone marrow.’
Before the transplant, Emma underwent an intense conditioning process to rid her body of any cancerous bone marrow cells which included radiation and extensive chemotherapy.
Their family always vowed to stay positive and strong as Emma underwent surgery
Brian said the day of the transplant was ‘nerve-wracking’, but thankfully, the surgery was a success.
The medication she was on weakened her immune system, so it was critical that she had as little contact as possible with the outside world.
That meant she stayed in quarantine until June 2015, when she was finally able to go back to playing with friends, dancing and visiting her favorite restaurant, Red Robin.
While Emma goes for check ups every six months, her cancer is in remission and she’s healthy and happy and set to start middle school next month.
Brian said she and soon-to-be sophomore Alex are also back to bickering.
He said: ‘Even though what he did was incredibly heroic, and not something you see everyday from an 11-year-old boy, he’s has got a lot of humility.’
‘You would think that it would have changed their relationship but they’re regular siblings. They fight like any other child would.’
‘They do really love each other,’ he added.