A 10-year-old girl with acute lymphoblastic leukemia finally met the “hero” football player who saved her life.
Phoenix Bridegroom was diagnosed with the debilitating cancer five years ago, and doctors told her in 2014 that she required a bone marrow transplant to survive — and she needed it quickly. When none of her family members were a match, Phoenix’s mother, Tammy, began to lose hope.
“Doctors said she didn’t have long,” Tammy Bridegroom, 39, tells PEOPLE. “We prayed for a miracle and we got one! We found a match fairly quickly.”
On Feb. 18 of last year, Phoenix, who lives with her family in Chesterton, Indiana, received bone marrow from an unknown donor (“It has to be a year before you can find out who your donor is,” explains Tammy) in what was a life-saving procedure.
“This magical mystery angel saved our daughter and we were just overwhelmed with wondering how we could even begin to say thank you,” says Tammy.
Brett Kasper, a 22-year-old junior at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, signed up to be a bone marrow donor through Be The Match in October 2014, and two months later got a call that he was a match with a 10-year-old girl from Indiana.
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“Our coach actually encouraged us to sign up to be bone marrow donors,” Brett, a quarterback on the school’s football team, tells PEOPLE. “When I got the call that I was a match, I was nervous, but immediately said yes.
“It was important to me. If I could be of help to a stranger, I’m of course going to do it.”
A year after the successful procedure, Tammy emailed Brett and the two began talking daily.
“It was like an instant family bond,” says Tammy. “I just wanted to say thank you so badly, but how do you even start to thank someone for saving your daughter? We figured the best way would be to introduce the two, so he could see how amazing of a person Phoenix is.”
On Nov. 5, after nine month of correspondence, Brett and Phoenix finally met in person at the Oshkosh stadium.
“As soon as Brett and his family walked into the room, it was like a big family reunion,” says Tammy. “They hugged and smiled and they instantly created a bond.”
Adds Tammy, “She loves Brett! She thinks of him like a big brother. After having met him she felt like they were able to get close to each other and she knows that he looks out for her. She’s his biggest fan.”
The duo spent the day together hanging out with the football players and watching practice.
“She’s such a fighter and she is so inspiring,” Brett, who was named the captain of this year’s 25th anniversary Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, says of Phoenix. “She doesn’t have an ounce of negativity in her system.”
Since the transplant, Phoenix has relapsed and is now taking oral chemo pills.
“The leukemia came back just a few weeks after she met Brett,” says Tammy. “But he gives her so much hope. We’ve been in constant contact with him — we’re thrilled to have him as a new part of our family.”
“I text her parents positive messages to give to Phoenix,” adds Brett. “I’ll always be there for her.”