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B.C. woman donated bone marrow to save stranger's life, urges others to do the same

Salny Ehman signed up to be a bone marrow donor at 19, after watching her grandmother's sibling go through leukemia.
Salny Ehman, left, and Tom Ellison, the man whose life she saved through a bone marrow donation.

Penticton resident Salny Ehman saved a complete stranger's life, and hopes to inspire others to do the same.

Ehman, now 35, signed up to be a bone marrow donor at the age of 19, after watching her grandmother's sibling go through leukemia.

"She has a whole bunch of siblings, and one of them had blood cancer, and only she was a match. And the math of that blew me away, how likely is it to have a close relative that can help?" Ehman said.

"If it's that unlikely to have a match when you have that many siblings, then people need to sign up."

Ehman did just that. She registered with Canadian Blood Services, and a few months later, got a call that she was a match with an anonymous recipient signed up through an American service, fighting cancer and in need of bone marrow stem cells.

Despite not knowing who she was donating to, Ehman underwent the donation procedure, and then one year later, did the same thing again after learning the recipient's body had been rejecting the donated cells.

"One year after the second donation, we were both allowed to say yes, we would like to know the other person. And we both said yes, but I was living in Nova Scotia at the time," Ehman said, having learned her stem cell recipient, Tom Allison, lived in Seattle.

"The only information given to me about [my donor] was it was a 19-year-old girl from Nova Scotia. And I thought, what's a 19-year-old girl doing on a bone marrow registry for?" Allison said.

"Neither one of my boys were matches, and neither one of my brothers. So this seemed just a million to one chance for somebody out there with a match that's no relation to me."

Allison and Ehman ultimately got in touch and kept in touch for more than a decade.

"We would write each other letters over the years, and little postcards," Ehman said.

"And then I moved here [to Penticton] two years ago. So as soon as I moved here, I was like, 'Wow, I'm so close.' Just a quick drive, like three and a half hours away."

She and Allison, who is now in his 60s and healthy post-cancer, met up in person recently, and Ehman was thrilled to see him thriving thanks to her donation.

"Second to my daughters, [donating] was the best, best experience in my entire life. And to know that he was out there, and spending time with his family, his grandchildren, it really meant a lot. And it showed me what I was capable of," Ehman said.

She and Allison remain good friends, and she urges anyone who can help to either sign up to be a donor, or if they can't participate in that way, give financially to Canadian Blood Services.

"There's lots of opportunities to help that cause," she said.

Find out more about Canadian Blood Services and how you can help. Learn how you can help save someone's life at Be The Match.