Johnny Sawyer Dyer had an emotional meeting with the 29-year-old donor who gave him another chance at life

By Jason Duaine Hahn
September 25, 2018 05:53 PM
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Credit: Sarah Cannon Center for Blood Cancer

After a long journey that saw him undergo intensive therapy to save his life, 9-year-old Johnny Sawyer Dyer has finally met the bone marrow donor who helped him send his leukemia into remission, ABC’s Good Morning America reports.

In January of 2017, Sawyer was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia — a cancer that starts in the bone marrow and often moves to the blood, reports the American Cancer Society. Sawyer endured four rounds of chemotherapy and full body radiation before he underwent a life-saving bone marrow transplant just months later.

While many in Sawyer’s hometown of Corryton, Tennesee, celebrated the news that he had gone into remission last August (the community even threw a parade), Sawyer was never able to meet the person who stepped in to provide the organ donation at his time of need.

“This wasn’t fun,” Sawyer told GMA of his cancer treatments. “It would really feel good to meet the person who saved my life.”

Sawyer’s wish finally came true on September 22, when he met 29-year-old Kevin Schwartzel from San Diego, California.

“We were so thankful for him doing this for Sawyer,” Sawyer’s mother, Misty Dyer, told GMA. “Sometimes thank you doesn’t seem like enough to say to someone who has saved your son’s life.”

Sawyer, on the day of his transplant
| Credit: Sarah Cannon Center for Blood Cancer

According to ABC, Schwartzel, a physician assistant, initially signed up to be a donor in 2011, and it was in 2017 that he got word about a potential recipient in need of his help. His bone marrow would go to then 8-year-old Sawyer, and help him overcome the odds in his fight with the disease.

“It was really hard when he lost his hair and was really sick,” Sawyer’s mother told GMA. “It’s great to see him healthy, happy, being able to be around his friends and family again to being a normal kid.”

Following the donation, Sawyer’s family sent their contact information to Schwartzel through the donation registry Be the Match. Schwartzel reached out to them, and the long-awaited meeting came to fruition.

“I’m still trying to wrestle with the gravity of it because I’ve seen some pictures and I know how sick these kids can get,” Schwartzel said in a video message to told GMA “To try to come to terms with it — my bone marrow, something that I was just born with, brought him out of that situation.”

Kevin Schwartzel (second from left) and Sawyer’s family
| Credit: Sarah Cannon Center for Blood Cancer

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In a video posted by ABC, Sawyer — with a full head of hair and dressed in a light blue collar shirt — is seen hugging Schwartzel during their emotional meeting.

For Schwartzel, it was a chance to see the emotional power behind such a selfless and beneficial act such as bone marrow donation.

“[Sawyer] can go to school, now he doesn’t have to wear a mask everywhere he goes — it’s crazy,” Schwartzel said. “It’s such a small thing for me to do and it literally means life or death for another person that I’ve never even met.”