Tomball woman meets donor who saved her life

By Rose-Ann Aragon - Reporter

TOMBALL, Texas - One Tomball woman got the chance to meet the man who saved her life.

Ashleigh Halfacer was 32 years old when she was diagnosed with MDS, a rare form of leukemia typically only found in patients over the age of 60.

On Saturday, the special moment took place at Burroughs Park in Tomball.

Meet Ashleigh Halfacer

“Being a registered donor saves lives,” Halfacer said.

Halfacer knows because without hers, she wouldn’t be here.

“I was just feeling a little tired, and so I started to go see a doctor, and they thought I was anemic, but it turns out that I had a rare form of leukemia called MDS,” Halfacer said.

Halfacer was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. Doctors told her a bone marrow transplant could save her life.

“There’s only 25% chance that your sibling will be a match, so it’s very scary not knowing,” Halfacer said.

Her two older siblings were not a match. So, Halfacer went through several rounds of chemotherapy, waiting patiently for a potential match.

“You’re kind of just waiting and hoping and praying that someone was just kind enough to do this in their own spare time and be so selfless,” Halfacer said.

Meet Peter Norris

Luckily for Halfacer, through an international nonprofit, DKMS, an organization dedicated to fighting blood cancers, doctors were able to connect with a nearly perfect match. They found that connection with 34-year-old donor Peter Norris, who lived in Jarrell, Texas, an hour north of Austin.

Norris though signed up as a registered donor after seeing a booth at a music festival.

“DKMS had a booth set up where they were just doing cheek swabs,” Norris said. “In my mind, I just figured, why not go on the list? If you have an opportunity to help someone …You won’t know unless you do the cheek swab.”

He didn’t realize just how important that day was.

“Because of people like Peter, I get to live,” Halfacer said.

“Flew back to Georgetown, and they did the surgery, and I was in and out in less than 24 hours,” Norris said. “I can’t imagine the feeling of not knowing if you’ll have another day or knowing if your days might be limited, so I’m sure I there’s a different appreciation for life now ... I’ve got a whole different appreciation for every day, too.”

When Peter and Ashleigh meet each other

Saturday was a day that changed the lives of two families. Halfacer brought her family: her husband, James Halfacer, and his parents, Ernie and Dawn Halfacer, who traveled from Michigan, Ernie and Dawn Halfacer. The group waited at Burroughs Park in Tomball, ready to meet the man who saved Ashleigh Halfacer’s life.

“Crazy … exciting … (I could) smile from ear to ear,” Halfacer said.

Norris brought his mother and father. They traveled from the Austin area. They walked the main pathway of the park. Halfacer and her family watched as they made the walk to meet them. Halfacer was smiling.

“It’s so good to finally meet you!” Ashleigh Halfacer laughed hugging Norris. 

The two embraced. 

“It’s nice to meet you!” Norris said.

“Oh my gosh, you have no idea what you’ve done,” Halfacer laughed, and started to cry.

“I got you something for your unicorn collection,” Norris laughed. 

“Thank you, that’s so sweet of you,” Halfacer laughed. 

Halfacer said the two had emailed each other once they were able to meet. DKMS protocol states that a recipient cannot meet the donor until a year after they are matched. 

“As soon as it turned into a year … My donor day is July 3 of 2018. Both of us could not wait, and in the meantime, he wrote me a letter and I wrote him a letter, but you can’t give out any personal information,” Halfacer said. “He said for him, he was only wondering if the person lived … What did they look like? And he thinks he didn’t do anything big, but it’s like the biggest thing he’s ever done for anyone, and he doesn’t even know!”

“Seeing the transformation of the process that you (have) gone through and then seeing the smiles on their faces and their pictures, I just started crying. It was a beautiful experience,” Norris said.

Their families met and shared stories and gratitude.

“I can never repay that man for what he’s done for my wife because I have her today,” James Halfacer said. “The biggest thing that somebody could do is give something that can never be repaid, and to me, that’s what Peter has done today. That’s true love to me. That’s a bond like none other that those two will always have.”

They said they are family.

“He’s family,” James Halfacer said. “He was family from when he was born. We just didn’t know it yet.”

“I feel like you’re my brother,” Ashleigh Halfacer laughed.

“I just hope that you’re going to enjoy every day,” Norris said to Halfacer.

“We will be life friends for sure!” Halfacer laughed. 

“For sure, we met less than a month ago on the phone!” Norris laughed.

“Yeah,” Halfacer replied.  “Miracles do happen when people register.”

For more information on DKMS and how to become a donor, click here.

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