In front of hundreds of fans at the University of Mary Hardin Baylor football game Saturday, a local college student finally met the woman who saved her life.
Megan LaLonde is a nursing student at UMHB and is set to graduate December 2017, but her journey to graduating from UMHB hasn't been an easy one.
At 14-years-old, LaLonde suddenly started to break out in rashes, get 100 degree fevers, and her joints would swell up.
"My energy level went from 'wooh let's go do everything' to I'd rather just sleep and sleep some more and sleep some more," LaLonde said.
Her doctors weren't sure what was causing her pain and attributed the symptoms to stress. LaLonde, however, thought something else must be wrong.
"I was an active dancer, I was able to just talk in front of thousands of people it wasn't a problem for me. Stress wasn't an issue. We knew this was something different," LaLonde said.
Six months after the symptoms started, LaLonde fell and couldn't pick herself back up. She was hospitalized at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston for a month.
During that month, doctors performed several tests to try to figure out what was wrong. They ruled out cancer and several other sicknesses. Three weeks into her stay at the hospital, a doctor recognized her symptoms. After some more testing, doctors told LaLonde she had a rare blood condition called Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis (HLH).
"[With HLH] the immune system gets triggered and it starts to affect and go after the pathogens but then it will go on to the healthy tissue. Starting with the cells and then to the tissue and then to the organs and ultimately it can lead to system failure and death," LaLonde said.
She went through different treatments for five years.
"They used different medications to try to suppress [HLH] and keep it down," LaLonde said. "It's kind of like keeping the monster under the bed. We just don't want it to get out."
During the treatments, LaLonde graduated from high school and started going to UMHB. While at UMHB, she started having symptoms again and her doctor's said her last option was to get a bone marrow transplant.
"I just saw it as another treatment. It was 'okay, alright, I'll do it'," LaLonde said. "I just want to survive. I just want to be here. There's so many things that I wanted to do."
LaLonde's siblings were not a match for her, but someone from the Be The Match registry was.
Renee Christopher from Montana signed up for Be The Match the same year LaLonde was diagnosed, and was a match for LaLonde.
“It was something you kind of did. I didn't really think about it again until you get the call asking if you're willing to donate. And I said ‘of course!’" Christopher said.
The transplant procedure was done in February 2013. LaLonde went through two weeks of extensive chemotherapy treatment. Her family members saved their heads with her to support her. After chemo, the IV infusion of the marrow cells was done.
Since the transplant, LaLonde is healthy.
"I'm 100% healthy. And it's one of the best things ever. I can actually walk around campus without being in pain. I can go outside and not be breaking out in hives. I genuinely just cannot express the actual feeling of being healthy. I'm a normal individual now at this point with a really weird history," LaLonde said.
Nearly four years after the transplant, LaLonde and Christopher had never met in person, until Saturday. The two had talked and been in contact over the years but never had the chance to meet.
During the halftime show at the UMHB football game on Saturday, LaLonde and Christopher met for the first time.
“Overwhelmingly happy. I cried. It was beautiful,” LaLonde said. “I actually looked over at my mom and I said I was not going to cry, and she's like 'too late.' So like I said, overwhelming joy was running through my mind. And then just seeing my school supporting it and happy that we actually got to meet each other for the first time it's just amazing.”
“Crazy to finally meet her,” Christopher said. “I mean thought about her for several years and she's here, she's okay, she looks wonderful, it's exciting."
LaLonde and Christopher are using this experience to encourage others to sign up for the Be The Match registry to help others in need.
"How often does a normal person who's not in the medical field get to say they helped save somebody's life. I don't know I think it's something everybody should do,” Christopher said. “No expense, no cost to yourself but time. And there she is; she's here and graduating college."
LaLonde is currently a resident advisor at UMHB and is expected to graduated from the UMHB Baylor Scott & White Nursing Program in December 2017.
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