After they hugged, the first thing the 3 1/2-year-old boy did when he and the detective met was to show the detective his chemotherapy port.
This November was the first time Charlie Osborn and Corey Hall had ever met. Charlie was the recipient of Hall’s bone marrow, which was needed to fight an inherited immune deficiency disorder.
Just a little more than a year had passed since Hall, a detective with the Cleburne Police Department, donated his bone marrow anonymously for a family whose toddler son was diagnosed with Hyper IgM Syndrome, an inherited immune deficiency disorder that leaves those with the syndrome highly susceptible to severe illnesses and cancer.
This was all the information Hall had about the young boy, then 2, until he let the Gift of Life, the marrow registry he’d donated to, know he would like, if possible, to know the recipient and his family. Gift of Life maintains the anonymity of both parties for one year after the transplant.
“That was the hardest part, not knowing how he was doing, not knowing if it worked,” Hall said. “That was the toughest, not knowing who it was, where it was going, how he was doing. That limited amount of information which I had, which was just a 2-year-old little boy. That was probably the hardest part.”
Charlie’s parents, Kenny and Ashlee Osborn, kept a blog about their journey with Charlie, Kenny Osborn said. It was from that blog Hall figured out he was the matching donor.
“Corey reached out to us,” Osborn said. Hall sent them an email through the blog saying, “I think I’m the donor.”
From then, they began corresponding for about six months before they were able to meet, Osborn said.
Osborn said he and his wife had hoped to meet the donor.
“From the very beginning we wanted to meet him.”
The Osborns live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and they set up an initial meeting at their church, where Ashlee Osborn works. Hall drove up with his family to Tulsa one weekend last month to meet with them.
Both families were equally nervous not knowing what to expect. Once the Halls came into the office and Charlie and Corey Hall introduced each other the worries were shed and they quickly began to bond.
“It was like seeing family you hadn’t seen in a long time,” Hall said. “It was an instant connection.”
What made it even more special was that this was the first time Charlie was able to be around other children because of a stronger immune system, Hall said.
For Hall, it was also slightly strange because he was seeing a little boy with whom he shared an immune system and a blood type. Before Charlie received the bone marrow transplant, he had to undergo 12 days of chemotherapy to eliminate his immune system so Hall’s immune system could replace it.
“It blows my mind,” Hall said of how the transplant works.
As the weekend progressed both families learned they shared many things in common — their Christian faith and Dallas Cowboys fandom. The families attended church together and then watched the Cowboys game that afternoon before the Halls had to leave.
Then came the hardest part of the visit — leaving.
“I was worried two days was too much,” Hall said. “It was actually the complete opposite. We wanted to stay there.”
“Our families got along great,” Osborn said. “It was hard to see Corey say goodbye to Charlie. It was sad to see it end.”
The Osborns plan to visit the Halls in the spring.
Their meeting was a moment that had taken four years to make, just before Charlie was born, Hall said.
In 2012, Hall donated blood during a blood drive at a Cleburne church. At the church there was also a booth for bone marrow donation set up by Gift for Life.
It was something until then Hall had never considered and knew very little about, but once he learned about it decided it was worthwhile. All he had to do was to get the inside of his cheek swabbed with a cotton swab and then get placed in the registry.
Three years passed before he received a call about Charlie and was asked if he still wanted to donate because Charlie needed the donation soon. He said yes and he and his wife were on their way to Hackensack Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey, where the Gift of Life donations are made.
The procedure involved harvesting the marrow stem cells from his pelvic bone through small incisions in his lower back.
Doctors drew out about a liter and a half of marrow, which was then immediately sent to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, by courier, where Charlie was hospitalized since June. The hospital, Kenny Osborn said, is a leading hospital for Charlie’s rare condition.
The family had split time between Tulsa and Cincinnati awaiting a donor.
“Charlie was sitting there without an immune system,” Osborn said.
The marrow was transplanted and now, about a year later, Charlie is in good health, although he experienced some complications on Friday that had the family worried they might have Christmas at the hospital, but Charlie recovered and was released late Christmas Eve.
“He’s doing really well,” Kenny Osborn said. “He’s definitely a normal 3 1/2 year old.”