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Human Interest

13-Year-Old Colorado Boy Meets His Life-Saving Bone Marrow Donor Who Is the Son of Undocumented Immigrant

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It was a meeting they will never forget.

On Thursday night, 13-year-old Ezra Miller, who spent more than a year battling leukemia, and 29-year-old Luis Miranda, who donated the life-saving bone marrow the boy needed to survive, met for the first time onstage at the DKMS 11th Annual Big Love Gala at Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan, sharing a tearful hug.

“I feel like I have a little brother now,” Miranda, who registered as a bone marrow donor in 2008, tells PEOPLE. “It’s an honor to play a part in giving him a second chance. It’s a bond that goes beyond words. Beyond anything.”

Meeting his new “big brother,” Miller tells PEOPLE, “It was pretty surreal. I am so grateful for what he did. He saved my life.”

The two had so much fun meeting on Thursday night, that they agreed to spend the day together on Friday.

One of their first stops? “We are going to visit the Statue of Liberty today,” says Miranda.

After that, any other fun things they do are up to Miller. “Ezra is the boss today,” says Miranda.

Luis Miranda
Luis Miranda

‘Another Chance at Life’

The “brothers” emotional meeting took place a year after Miller received the bone marrow transplant he desperately needed to live.

The Castle Rock, Colorado, teen who loves to ski and play ice hockey, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in August 2015 after feeling sick during a hiking trip.

“I threw up and wasn’t feeling that well so we went to see a doctor at a walk-in clinic who said I had a virus,” says Miller.

When he continued to feel sick, his mother took him to a series of doctors before learning that he had cancer.

During the nine months he spent in the hospital, he learned that he needed a bone marrow transplant to live and was elated when he found out that DKMS – the international non profit that is the world’s largest bone marrow center — had found a match for him.

“I was pretty excited knowing that I had another chance in life,” he says.

Ezra Miller
Cynthia Lowry

Life-Changing Decision

Miranda registered as a bone marrow donor in 2008 when he learned that the wife of a soccer star he admired had leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant to live.

“I never thought anything would happen and then seven or eight years later, I received a call from DKMS,” he says.

He didn’t hesitate to say yes to help. “I said, ‘Let’s go for it!’ ”

The procedure to remove his bone marrow was “pretty painless,” he says. “I would do it again a hundred million times.”

Miranda, who is studying for his second master’s degree at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame, says it gave him a welcome break from studying.

“I was like, ‘Hey. I can watch House of Cards on Netflix,’ ” he joked.

No Strangers to Adversity

Besides sharing DNA, both Miller and Miranda have faced great challenges in their young lives.

The son of an undocumented immigrant mother who cleaned houses for a living, Miranda grew up poor in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 2008, he and his mother were devastated to learn that his sister and her husband were killed in Guatemala, leaving the two to help raise his orphaned nieces and nephew.

“I wanted to help with this because I have seen families struggle through different family trials like illness and death and I know how difficult that can be.”

After dealing with so much adversity, he says, “I have no idea how I made it up to this point.”

But from an early age, he dreamed of making the world a better place, putting himself through school.\

Ezra and Luis meet at the gala.
Eric Vitale Photography

“My grandfather lived through the Spanish Civil War and then was exiled to Guatemala where they had their own 30-year war,” he says. “That affected me and touched me.”

As a result, he says he is helping to work on establishing “cultures of peace.”

“I was doing great work in Colombia working on the peace process in the Office of the High Commissioner of Peace,” he says.

Armed already with a masters’ from the prestigious London School of Economics, he is set to graduate from the Kroc Institute at Notre Dame in May, after finals.

“I am preparing myself to work in areas of foreign conflict,” he says. “I am looking for opportunities for a job right now.”

As for Miller, after his successful transplant, he is looking forward to return to school and to his ice hockey team, who supported him through his ordeal by setting up a GoFundMe account for him.

In the meantime, he is dreaming of one day traveling around the world and skiing as much as he can.

“I would love to ski in British Columbia,” he says. “I hear the skiing is really great there.”

DKMS Saves Lives

Seventy percent of all patients who need bone marrow transplants must turn to the registry and rely on a donor outside their families to save their lives, according to DKMS, the world’s largest bone marrow center.

“Only 30 percent will find a match in their own family,” singer Rita Ora told the audience.

Others on hand for the black tie event were Coco Rocha and The Voice winner Jordan Smith, who performed.

One hundred percent of the proceeds from the Big Love Gala fund DKMS’s mission to delete blood cancer, says Katharina Harf, who founded the bone marrow center with her father, Peter Harf.

DKMS has registered more than 7 million donors saving more than 62,000 lives in the last 25 years.

To register as a potential bone marrow donor, please visit www.dkms.org/en.