When an Emerson College junior rolled up her sleeves at a community blood drive two years ago, she was doing it for the free pizza.
“It was sort of like a random thing,” said Maxine Renning ’14. “I never thought I was doing something heroic.”
But less than 6 months later, Renning, then 19 years old and in her freshman year at Emerson, found out that another young woman in Chicago needed her bone marrow to stay alive. Renning, a Marketing Communication major, donated some of her bone marrow in a painful surgery in May 2011 and saved the life of 26-year-old Jenna Langer. She’s meeting her this weekend.
“It’s interesting, because we’re both so similar and we’re both young,” Renning said.
Renning, a native of Lincoln, Rhode Island, will meet Langer on Saturday, November 10, on stage at the annual meeting of the Be The Match Foundation in Minneapolis.
Bone marrow donors and recipients can remain anonymous, but both Renning and Langer wanted to meet each other. They could not learn the other’s identity until one year after the transplant.
Langer was in remission from bone cancer, but needed a bone marrow transplant after she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and myelodysplastic syndrome (formerly known as preleukemia), which is when the body’s bone marrow produces poorly formed or dysfunctional blood cells. Her health has vastly improved since the transplant.
“I’m overjoyed. I can’t believe I have the power to change someone’s life,” Renning said. “I would like to think that anyone in my position would do this.”
“The more I learn about her, the more astounded I am with her humility, resolve, and compassion,” Langer said. “She gave me the most wonderful gift of all—a shot at a healthy life.”
Renning, age 20, stopped by a blood drive in her hometown two years ago while on a lunch break from her job at a summer camp. “I thought I’d be killing two birds with one stone,” she said. “I could donate blood and get free pizza.”
But while she was there, a worker asked Renning if she’d ever considered being on a national bone marrow registry. “At first I was apprehensive because I was imagining something incredibly painful,” she said. “But then I said, ‘Of course I’d do that.’”
While not all bone marrow donations are painful, that was not the case for Renning.
“For me, the physical pain lasted a couple of weeks, and I felt really weak,” she said. “It was definitely painful for me, but I’ve heard a lot of people can totally go back to work the next day.”
Renning went through with the surgery just days after her last final exam at Emerson, and missed the annual EVVY Awards ceremony. When news first spread of Renning’s amazing act of compassion, she received a round of applause from members of her hometown church, Wesley United Methodist Church, during services.
“I cried,” she said. “Me saving Jenna’s life is equivalent to saving the life of someone who you actually know. And it’s just as important.”