Boy With Leukemia Finds Bone Marrow Donor and a New Family: 'He Didn't Need a Psychologist, He Needed a Mom,' Says Doctor Who Adopted Him
"It was like after months of thinking about it this kid who needed a family just dropped into my lap," Jeanelle Folbrecth says
When Dominick Folbrecht was admitted to City of Hope in 2014, his acute lymphoblastic leukemia having returned after four years of treatment, he had no family to support him.
Jeanelle Folbrecht, a psychologist at the hospital in Duarte, California, was charged with assessing the young boy for signs of anxiety or depression resulting from his illness.
“Before we met, I gathered information about him and I realized, this kid doesn t need a psychologist; he needs a mom,” Jeanelle, 49, tells PEOPLE. “And then it popped into my brain: maybe I’m supposed to be that mom.”
Already a mom to two teenage sons, Jeanelle had been thinking about adopting an older child for several months when she met Dominick.
“It was like after months of thinking about it this kid who needed a family just dropped into my lap,” she says.
While Jeanelle and her family were in the process of adopting Dominick, a search was underway for a match who could save his life with a bone marrow donation.
Vanessa Brobbey, a college student from Ontario, Canada says she had “completely forgotten” she registered as a bone marrow donor when she received an email saying she had the chance to save a life.
“I felt like I was the chosen one,” Brobbey tells PEOPLE.
The 20-year-old says she didn t think twice about making the donation. “The amount of pain I knew I would go through was nothing compared to the amount of pain I knew the recipient had experienced,” she explains.
On January 28, 2015 Brobbey made the donation that reached Dominick just days later. After that, the teen remained in the hospital for nearly two months of recovery – his adoptive family constantly by his side. “We played board games and stuff like that,” Dominick, now 15, recalls.
He was able to go home with the Fulbrechts in April, and after four years spent battling leukemia, his health finally began to improve. For a year, Dominick and his family wondered about the stranger whose selfless gesture brought him back from the edge (privacy laws state that donors and recipients cannot meet or exchange information until one year after a transplant).
On May 6, Dominick and his family met Vanessa Brobbey for the first time as part of City of Hope’s 40th Annual Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion – an event that brings more than 4,000 survivors, donors and families together for a massive celebration.
“There were tears before I even reached him,” Brobbey says. “I felt like an angel – he had one last hope and I was it and it worked.”
Dominick says the meeting was “awesome” and that he was most excited to find that he and Brobbey had a lot in common, like their favorite foods (shrimp and chicken wings) and their favorite color (blue).
While Dominick continues to get more comfortable with his two new brothers, he now gets to add an honorary “big sister” to the mix.
“Within minutes of meeting we were cracking jokes,” says Brobbey. “There was an instant bond. I told him, ‘I’m literally going to be your big sister. I’ll guide you.’ ”