Born with a life-threatening condition, a pair of twins in Winona County is now thriving, thanks to a generous donor more than 4,000 miles away. And with World Marrow Donor Day coming up, the twins are sharing their story.
Identical twins Elizabeth and Kathryn Girtler, 10, of Minnesota City, were both born with congenital amegakaryocytic thrombocytopenia.
"[It] basically means they were born with no platelets. So if they were to get scratched or fall down and get cut or bruised, they could bleed to death," explained the twins' mom, Michele.
So to make sure that didn't happen, the twins had to live a sheltered life.
"They didn't know anything other than these walls. We didn't take them out to too many things. They didn't go to the park, they never swam in a lake. We never went to a hotel pool with them," said Michele. "We never did any of that because germs and cuts and infections just weren't allowed."
"I had no energy. I was always sleeping," recalled Elizabeth. "And we would go to the toy area, then I would play with the dolls and then a few seconds later, like 'I'm tired. Let's go back to the room.'"
To cure their condition, the twins needed a bone marrow transplant. And they each got one thanks to Ingo Gruda, a donor from Germany.
"It was almost like you could breathe again because there was hope," said Michele.
Elizabeth underwent her bone marrow transplant at Mayo Clinic in 2011, when she was 3-and-a-half years old. Kathryn received her bone marrow the following year.
Last September, the twins got to meet Ingo for the first time at the Be The Match Gala in Minneapolis.
"I said, 'Thank you very much, Ingo,' but it was really hard because I was crying," Elizabeth recalled. "Thank you for saving our lives, Ingo."
The twins even got to dance with Ingo, who coincidentally shares the same birthday as the girls (Sept. 10).
"Blessed. Blessed that this man that didn't know us wanted to help us, stepped up, and did the one thing that we couldn't do as parents, and that was to help make them healthy," said Michele. "And it was like they had always been connected because they just gravitated toward each other and they spent the entire night together."
Thanks to Ingo, not only did the twins enjoy their steps on the dance floor, they get to enjoy their next steps in life.
"We get to watch them get married someday, and have kids of their own someday, and all new adventures," said Michele.
World Marrow Donor Day is on Sept. 16. It's a global celebration to thank the donors and raise awareness. According to the event's website, 30 million people around the world have registered to donate marrow. Last year alone, doctors performed 20,500 marrow transplants. In addition, nearly 50 percent of patients find his or her perfect match in another country.
If you are interested in becoming a marrow donor, the first step is to join the Be The Match registry. CLICK HERE to learn how.