An unlikely match leads to a close connection.
- Bay Area bone marrow recipient finally meets donor
- Pair had to wait a year, in accordance to rules
- To become a donor, visit join.bethematch.org/fl
Nick Vojnovic, president of the Tampa-based Little Greek Fresh Grill, initially registered with "Be The Match" to be potential bone marrow donor.
Little did he know, years later, he would be diagnosed with Myelofibrosis, a precursor to leukemia, and be told he needed a bone marrow transplant himself to survive.
"They say you have a year or two to live so I met with my doctor, Dr. Perez and she said "Nick, we're going to search the data base and we had one match out of 29 million people," Vojnovic said.
Carolina Gomez, 24, had signed up to be a bone marrow donor in college after watching a family friend battle cancer.
She said she'd forgotten all about it until she was contacted about helping Nick by being his donor.
"I got a call, a text, an email and they said ‘you're a match,’ and I'm like, "I can't believe it, I'm ready, sign me up," she said.
The pair underwent the bone marrow transplant last January but under the rules, they had to wait a year to meet.
That moment came Wednesday night when Gomez flew in from Washington, D.C. to surprise Vojnovic at his "re-birth" celebration during a banquet on Clearwater Beach.
Neither could hold back the tears.
"If it wasn't for Caroline, you know, I wouldn't be here with my family for Christmas and Thanksgiving and all that. We're forever indebted to her and her family and her boyfriend, they're all so sweet, but she's the one who really stepped up and did it," Vojnovic said.
Gomez described the procedure as "uncomfortable" but not painful, and she said she wouldn't hesitate to do it again.
"I honestly have no words for how great this feels. I just know that he's here now, and I get to meet him, and I get to see his family, and I get to put a face to a name, and it's a magical experience" Gomez said.
As they celebrate this milestone together, Vojnovic said he feels like he's gained another daughter along with a new outlook on life.
"Even my doctor says I'm blessed. This was a perfect match. I am truly blessed," he said.
They're hoping their experience will inspire others to become donors.
For information on the process and how to register, visit join.bethematch.org/fl.