KU student donated bone marrow needed to save 11-year-old Blues superfan’s life

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — You don’t have to be a St. Louis Blues fan to know the story of Laila Anderson.

The little girl overcame cancer just as the Blues rallied to win their first Stanley Cup last season.

“I mean I accomplished my battle, and they were my inspiration, so I knew they were going to finish as well,” Laila said.

Laila’s life was saved thanks to a bone marrow donor. But you probably didn’t know that donor was a student at KU, and he said the donation changed his life, too.

The 11-year-old suffers from a rare disorder called HLH, and she was in dire need of a bone marrow transplant. The Blues organization put a plea to fans to get tested through Be The Match.

“I’m not a huge hockey fan, and I don’t watch the news as much as I would’ve liked to,” KU sophomore Kenton Felmlee admitted.

The 19-year-old is studying to become a doctor at KU in Lawrence. Back in high school, he decided to sign up with the Be The Match registry.

“Had my cheek swabbed and that was it,” he said. “They sent it away for testing.”

Only 1 in 430 people who submit a swab get matched. But in just a few months, Kenton sample was among the lucky few, a perfect match for someone in need.

“I was amazed that it happened that quickly,” he said.

He needed a few more tests to be certain, and while it was relatively fast, just days, it felt much longer knowing someone might die while waiting for his bone marrow.

“Every single step was excruciating in waiting and wondering how the recipient was doing,” Kenton said. “It takes a toll emotionally even one you never thought you’d take on.”

In January, the Jayhawk had surgery to extract his bone marrow. But he never imagined his recipient would be someone hockey fans around the world had come to adore.

This month, he learned his donation helped save Blues superfan Laila Anderson’s life.

“I think that as much as she is an inspiration to St. Louis, she is at least that much of an inspiration to me,” Kenton said.

He’s now come to learn a lot about the 11-year-old and said although her family might credit his donation, he said Laila has done a lot for him, too.

“She was an inspiration to me even before I knew her name,” he said. “There are plenty of times I’d be having a rough day and think back and think, ‘There’s somebody out there who is counting on me.'”

Kenton and Laila will get to meet for the first time next week at a Be The Match fundraiser in St. Louis. He hopes their story will encourage everyone to consider signing up for the registry.

“Without being on this registry, no one can reach out and ask you for help,” Kenton said. “So I think it’s important everyone takes the first step in saying, ‘I can help.’ Even if you aren’t needed, at least being there helps.”

Tickets for the Be The Match soiree in St. Louis are already sold out. But they’re actually selling passes to watch the live stream of Kenton and Laila meeting. Funds raised help the nonprofit pay for medical and travel costs for both donors and recipients.

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