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Huw Williams, left, and his life-saving stem cell donor Mike Hogman, right, talk to reporters upon the pair's first face to face meeting in the arrivals area of Pearson Airport in Toronto, Thursday April 28, 2011. The pair was brought together by the Onematch stem cell donor match network after Hogman read a post on Facebook. (J.P. MOCZULSKI/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Huw Williams, left, and his life-saving stem cell donor Mike Hogman, right, talk to reporters upon the pair's first face to face meeting in the arrivals area of Pearson Airport in Toronto, Thursday April 28, 2011. The pair was brought together by the Onematch stem cell donor match network after Hogman read a post on Facebook. (J.P. MOCZULSKI/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Social Networking

Facebook saved his life, says Ottawa man Add to ...

When Mike Hogman clicked a Facebook link back in 2009, the British Columbia native never imagined that two years later he would be standing in a Toronto airport meeting a man whose life he had saved.

The 23-year-old technician from Nanaimo said he registered with OneMatch after finding a post about the stem cell registry on a friend's Facebook page.

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Several months later, Hogman donated his bone marrow to Huw Williams, a 44-year-old Ottawa man diagnosed with terminal leukemia.

"It's kind of a surreal experience," Hogman said after he and Williams embraced just outside the arrivals gate at the Pearson International Airport on Thursday evening. "Being able to meet him in person and see him in such good health is amazing. I'm just blown away right now."

Williams, a father of three teenage girls, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008 during a physical before a kick-boxing match. He was given a cocktail of drugs but his body wasn't responding to them, and none of his family members were a bone marrow match.

Williams was running out of options. He was put on a waiting list for a bone marrow donor. His doctors told him that without a transplant, he was sure to die.

"It was a very anxious time waiting to see if there would be a bone marrow donor in the universe for my brother," said his sister Sian Williams. "We're just so fortunate that my brother was saved by a generous person like Mike, who gave his bone marrow to a stranger."

There were hugs and smiles as Williams introduced Hogman to his family at the airport, and Sian fought back tears as she thanked Hogman for saving her brother's life.

"How do you say thank you to someone who saved your life? It's a pretty unusual circumstance," Williams said. "As dramatic as it sounds, I was just hanging off the edge of a cliff and he literally saved me."

When the stem cell registry released Hogman's information to Williams a year after the procedure, the donor received a tearful phone call.

"Huw gave me a call out of the blue," Hogman said. "It was overwhelming, to say the least, to get a phone call from the gentleman who was saved by my stem cells."

Williams said he "cried like a baby" during the emotional conversation. The pair stayed in touch through Facebook as they planned the visit.

Both men credit the popular social networking site with bringing about their happy ending.

"I wouldn't even know what OneMatch was if it wasn't for that one random post I saw on Facebook," Hogman said.

Social networking sites may be key to securing more young male donors, a demographic that makes up less than 10 per cent of the registry, said a spokeswoman for Canadian Blood Services.

Veronica Magee said that stem cells donated by young, healthy men between the ages of 17 and 25 usually lead to better outcomes for the patient.

"The stem cells graft better when it's a young male donor," Magee said. "Social media is a prime vehicle for us to reach that demographic because that's where a lot of people within that age demographic are communicating."

Williams and Hogman urged people to sign up for the registry.

 

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