OLATHE, Kan. — A Kansas City-area woman saved a stranger’s life 10 years after signing up to become a donor to people battling blood cancer.

Now, the 26-year-old is now encouraging others to donate and thanking the person who inspired her to give back. 

To understand how Elizabeth Leonard became a blood stem cell donor, you first need to know her dentist, Dr. Nevin Waters, in Olathe, Kansas. He was diagnosed with a form of Leukemia in 2003.

“That’s when I heard my name and cancer in the same sentence,” Waters said. 

A year later, a stranger from Norway saved Waters’ life through donation.

Inspired by Waters’ story, Leonard swabbed her cheek and registered at the dentist office.

About a decade later in May, Leonard got a call from DKMS, the world’s largest blood stem cell donor center. She was a potential match, but so was her brother. That’s when the competition to be the perfect match began. 

“It was very much a sibling rivalry between the two of us of who was going to get to be the actual donor,” Leonard said.

Leonard scored the perfect match, but both siblings were happy she would go on to save a stranger’s life.   She couldn’t wait to tell Waters. 

“It warmed my heart for her to tell me that,” Waters said. 

According to DKMS, 70% of people suffering from blood-related illnesses must rely on donors outside of their families to save their life.

At DKMS’ expense, Leonard and her now fiancé flew to Colorado where she sat in a chair for five hours donating blood stem cells. 

Leonard is surprised by how much she received through giving.

“You give back, and it seems like the world gives back to you as well,” Leonard said. “So it’s just such a positive start to everything going forward for me.”

That next week, she graduated with her masters and got engaged. 

It’s thanks to donors like Leonard that people like Waters get a second shot at life. 

“There’s some things that I can’t do now that I used to do, but I’m still living a glorious life. I have five grandchildren that I get to enjoy. I just got back from a fishing trip in Alaska — life is good,” Waters said. 

If you would like to join the registry, visit this website.

📲 Download the FOX4 News app to stay updated on the go.
📧 Sign up for FOX4 email alerts to have breaking news sent to your inbox.
💻 Find today’s top stories on fox4kc.com for Kansas City and all of Kansas and Missouri.