“Are you the one that saved my life?” eight-year-old Aaron Yniguez asked Southwest Airlines Dallas Customer Service Agent Yolanda Nava upon meeting her for the first time. This meeting, met with a big Texas-sized hug, was something Yolanda had been praying would happen since the spring of 2013, when she donated genetically matched stem cells to Aaron. But it was another connection 15 years ago that started Yolanda’s journey to Aaron.
After joining Southwest, Yolanda started working with a new colleague. Like most relationships at Southwest, colleagues quickly become family. As their relationship strengthened, Yolanda’s friend shared that he had suffered from an unknown blood disorder since birth. Because his mother didn’t have good health insurance, he was unable to receive proper care, causing emotional stress for the whole family. This story touched Yolanda and started her journey to begin donating blood through Carter BloodCare Texas. Ten years ago, during one of her routine donation trips, she signed up to be a bone marrow donor through Be the Match, a national blood marrow donation registry.
Almost six years after signing up with Be The Match, Yolanda received a call asking if she would make a bone marrow donation for a little boy being treated for Acute Myeloid Leukemia. She was a perfect genetic match! Yolanda agreed, and her best friend who inspired her was right by her side on donation day. A few hours later, Yolanda’s harvest was on the way to the hospital where one sick little boy was waiting for his bone marrow transplant.
After three years of wondering if the donation made a difference, Yolanda received the call she had been hoping for since donation day. The City of Hope Hospital invited Yolanda to reunite with Aaron, the now eight-year-old boy who received her bone marrow donation. The reunion would happen on the pitcher’s mound at the City of Hope Celebrity Softball Tournament in Nashville. This event is supported by country music artists and directly benefits City of Hope’s mission to find cures for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases.
On June 7, 2016, as country artists Vince Gill, Trisha Yearwood and hundreds of fanswatched Aaron’s story on the guitar shaped big screen, Yolanda walked to the pitcher’s mound to meet Aaron for the first time.
The reunion was certainly a home run for Team Yniguez and Team Nava. Before they even made their way off the field, the two families were pitching questions to each other:
“Did you know you were donating to a young child?” “Are you an artsy person?” “Are you a Flight Attendant for Southwest?” “Do you have allergies?” “Is Aaron in remission?”
As questions winded down, Aaron gave Yolanda a custom necklace engraved, “Aaron David Yniguez, BMT May 31, 2013.” Aaron’s Mom, Teresa, explained the meaning behind the special charms inside the necklace—Aaron’s birthstone heart, a baseball and angel wings—and ended by thanking Yolanda for making the decision to donate her bone marrow. “You saved our son,” she said as she hugged Yolanda. It was evident that this was the beginning of a beautiful relationship between two families bonded by love and generosity.
Aaron summed it up best as he was walking off the field when he looked up at his dad and said “Daddy, that was pretty amazing!”
It was truly heartwarming learning about Aaron and Yolanda’s story and seeing their reunion happen in the city that I call home.
Maya Angelo said, “Be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” If you would like be a rainbow in someone’s cloud who is suffering from cancer, please visit www.bethematch.org to learn more about becoming a bone marrow donor.