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BLOOMING SWEET

Bride saves baby’s life by donating her bone marrow – then meets her for the first time as a flower girl at her wedding

WHEN student Hayden Ryals saw a call for blood stem cell donors, she didn't think twice about signing up.

But she was shocked when she received a call just a year later, asking for her help to save a one-year-old girl's life.

Hayden Ryals, 27, saved Skye's life when she donated her bone marrow
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Hayden Ryals, 27, saved Skye's life when she donated her bone marrow Credit: Supplied

Hayden, now 27, from Alabama, had the operation and instantly felt bonded to little Skye.

And two years later, the pair met for the first time, when Skye was invited to be a flower girl at Hayden's wedding.

Speaking exclusively to Fabulous Digital, Hayden tells her story...

Since I was about 16, I have always given blood. It seemed like such a small thing to do to help people. Donating only takes 10 minutes.

Skye was her flower girl two years later, at her wedding to Adrian, 34
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Skye was her flower girl two years later, at her wedding to Adrian, 34Credit: Mark Broadway Photography

Then I went to University in Auburn, Alabama. I was walking to a lecture one day and saw a stall from ‘Be the Match’. I wandered over to see what they were about.

The lady at the stall told me they were looking for bone marrow donors. I just needed a swab in my cheek, so they would have my tissue, and then I would be put on the register. You only get called if you're a match.

I happily said yes, it only took two minutes, and didn’t think much more about it. 

Almost a year to the day later, in April 2016, I got a phone call. It was from Be the Match.

When I spoke to her mum Talia, it was emotional. 'You’ve saved my daughter’s life,' she said through tears

Hayden Ryals27

"You have been matched with a one-year-old little girl," I was told.

At first I thought it was a mistake, surely I wouldn’t be able to do something so big? But it was true, she needed me to save her life. 

I had been feeling so down in life, wondering what I was supposed to be doing, I felt a surge of joy at being able to help someone. 

Adrian and Skye started dating around the same time as the donation
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Adrian and Skye started dating around the same time as the donationCredit: Supplied

I found out the little girl, Skye Savren-McCormick, was diagnosed with juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia, a rare and aggressive form of blood cancer. She lived in California, miles away from me. 

I immediately knew I wanted to help her.

I sent her parents a letter, through a co-ordinator, telling them I wouldn’t back out.

They already felt like family to me. It was strange how connected I felt to a little girl I had never met.

Skye had never been on a plane before flying from California to Alabama to meet Hayden
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Skye had never been on a plane before flying from California to Alabama to meet HaydenCredit: Mark Broadway Photography

In July 2016, we did the transfer. I went to a hospital three hours away in Birmingham Alabama and was put under general anaesthetic for an hour.

They put a hollow needle into my hip bone to extract my bone marrow. It really wasn’t bad, and I didn’t feel much pain afterwards. 

I was told Skye responded well, but had to wait a year to contact Skye's parents.

When I eventually spoke to her mum Talia, it was emotional. "You’ve saved my daughter’s life," she said through tears. 

Adrian is in the US Air Force
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Adrian is in the US Air ForceCredit: Supplied

Around this time, I started dating my childhood friend Adrian Ryals, now 34. He was in the US Air Force, and was posted to Korea for a year in 2017.

Just before he left, Adrian popped the question. Delighted, we set a wedding date for June 2018.

In March 2018, I sent Skye a birthday present and asked if she would consider being my flower girl.

Becoming a blood stem cell donor

Every 20 minutes, someone is diagnosed with blood cancer in the UK.

For many, blood stem cell donation is their only chance of survival.

It's difficult to find a match, because of the millions of different stem cell combinations, so the DKMS are constantly on the look out for donors.

To become a blood stem cell donor, you just need to request a kit and do a five-minute cheek swab at home.

You can check your eligibility, and request a kit, here.

The odds are you may never be called upon.

Most blood stem cells are collected through a needle in the arm, just like giving blood.

Bone marrow collection involves stem cells being collected from the back of the hip under general anaesthetic. It takes one to two hours and most donors return to normal activities within a week. This method is only used in 10% of cases.

I knew it was a big ask, she lived a six-hour flight away, but she was so special to me.

If there was a chance she could come, I wanted her at my wedding. 

Skye still lived in hospital at the time and had never flown. But in May 2018, the doctor gave her the green light to be able to come to the wedding. 

Hayden met Skye for the first time just days before her wedding
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Hayden met Skye for the first time just days before her weddingCredit: Supplied

Talia, Skye and her dad Todd flew down the Thursday before the wedding.

As we arrived at the church where we were having the rehearsal, they were already there waiting.

I was breathless and speechless to finally meet this little human, and know I was fortunate enough to have been able to help her.

I just ran up to her, got on my knees and gave her a big hug. She wasn’t shy with me, as we had spoken on the phone a few times before. 

Skye didn’t really understand what I had done for her, but she knew I was somebody special. 

I was so honoured to have Skye be my flower girl, it made the wedding even more beautiful. I feel so lucky to have her in my life.

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