If Jaime Kaplan had a son, she thinks he might resemble Damian Rzeznikiewiz.
The first time she heard him speak, tears overwhelmed her. He started crying, too.
The two hadn’t met until Monday, but they are now like family.
When Kaplan faced a deadly and rare form of acute myeloid leukemia, her siblings were not a close enough match for a bone marrow transplant.
Rzeznikiewiz hit 10 of 10 markers.
In 2005 when he was a student at York University in Toronto, he had registered in a bone marrow drive hosted by a friend’s fraternity. The swabbing of his cheek was “no big deal,” said Rzeznikiewiz, now a 25-year-old medical student studying in Aruba.
Although he had been a potential match three times before, he wasn’t called for a transplant until he was flown to Boston to donate cells for the Macon tennis professional.
As the big day approached, he was scheduled to play in his soccer league finals, but he sat on the sidelines to make sure an injury would not prevent him from donating.
The day of the procedure, a machine filtered out stem cells from his blood before doctors put him under anesthesia to harvest marrow from his hip.
There was plenty of pain in his lower back after he woke up. For days, it hurt every time he moved his legs.
The holes the needles left in his hip bone kept Rzeznikiewiz off his motorcycle for weeks. Playing sports was out of the question, too.
For the next year, all he could do was wonder about the woman now living with his blood cells.
After 12 months, the donor and recipient can release their personal information to the other and arrange to meet -- if they desire.
Both Kaplan, 50, and Rzeznikiewiz were anxious to do so.
He called her shortly after learning her identity, but she had not yet received information about her donor when the phone rang.
Kaplan was in between events at the Kevin Brown Celebrity Classic in November.
“She dropped the phone and started crying,” said Rzeznikiewiz, who couldn’t hold back the sobs either.
That night, he spent hours reading online about Kaplan’s career playing tennis all over the world.
Internet posts exposed her courageous fight for life and the overwhelming support of Kaplan’s family and friends.
He was touched by the hundreds of thousands of dollars she has raised for a number of charities, including the American Cancer Society, the Macon Rescue Mission and The Children’s Hospital at The Medical Center of Central Georgia.
“I couldn’t have picked a better person,” Rzeznikiewiz said.
They had spoken several times and arranged a meeting after learning they would both be vacationing with family near Miami this month.
Both were welling up with emotion -- and nerves -- as the appointed time drew near.
He brought her a bouquet of flowers.
“It was a small, little gesture,” he said. “It was the least I could do.”
“Oh my God, you’re strong,” Rzeznikiewiz said, not knowing what to expect after her battle.
He immediately started explaining what the meeting meant to him, she said.
Both of their families and Kaplan’s rabbi joined in the celebration as the two got better acquainted.
“He’s so sweet,” Kaplan said. “His maturity is amazing.”
They learned they both dislike celery and raw onions, but Kaplan has yet to develop cravings for his favorites, as some transplant recipients do.
Both descended from Jewish families living in Poland, Russia and Germany.
“We had to be related way, way, way back,” Kaplan said.
Rzeznikiewiz shrugs off his contribution to her recovery and focuses on Kaplan’s accomplishments and circle of friends.
“I think she brought out the best in everybody,” he said. “In these times of crises that are horrible, people do come together and help save lives.”
Rzeznikiewiz looks forward to traveling to Macon this spring to meet more of Kaplan’s friends.
Not everyone gets a happy ending.
Kaplan knows cancer patients who are trying to hold on through chemotherapy as they wait for a minimal match of six out of 10 markers.
“That’s why it’s so important for all kinds of people to be in the registry,” she said.
She is already raising money for a Gift of Life benefit walk next month in Boca Raton, Fla.
Despite the pain suffered for a stranger, Rzeznikiewiz has never once regretted donating.
If another call comes, he’s ready to do it all again.
“I give someone life, and it is what it is.”
If you know of a person going above and beyond to help the community -- someone whose work might otherwise go unrecognized -- please let us know. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.