CINCINNATI — Little Mads Pomranky hardly seemed sick when his mom took him to the doctor for “a sinus thing.”
“He was just congested,” Jennifer Pomranky said. “I brought him to the doctor, and she noticed that his spleen was enlarged.”
That prompted a series of blood tests and an official diagnosis: Mads had acute myeloid leukemia, or AML. At just 5 months old, he needed a stem cell transplant to survive.
Shortly before the Pomranky family got that devastating news, though, a nursing student at Wright State University took part in a “swab drive” on campus.
“I stopped there on my like 10-minute break, did a quick swab and went on about my day,” Kaelynn Speed said. “They were like, it’s, like, a 1% chance. I’m like, I don’t even know, really, what’s going on or like what this is for. But like I know this is important so like whatever. I’ll just try it. It’s a chance to help somebody.”
Kaelynn, a Roger Bacon High School graduate from St. Bernard, was a perfect match for Mads, a little boy she had never met who lived 265 miles away in Illinois.
She agreed immediately to help.
“It was just a simple act of kindness,” said Kaelynn, who is now 20 and a junior at Wright State. “As a human being, I feel like we should all – if you have it, give it.”
That’s exactly what she did.
Minor sacrifice for life-saving payoff
The COVID-19 pandemic slowed the process, but Mads ended up getting his transplant in June 2020.
Being a donor was easy, Kaelynn said, and did not involve surgery for her.
“They stick a needle in one arm and stick another need in the other arm,” she said. “They filter blood out, and this big machine takes all the plasma and all that good stuff, the stem cells, and then puts it back through the other arm.”
The only discomfort was getting an IV, she said, and the whole thing did take some time.
“But, you know, I brought my computer, brought my headphones, was out there relaxed and went about my day,” Kaelynn said. “It only took me like a day to recover. I went home, took a nap, got up, ate, felt great, was back to my normal life the next day.”
That minor sacrifice meant the world to the Pomranky family.
Jennifer Pomranky and her husband, Derrick, made that clear during a video meeting with Kaelynn and her family organized by DKMS, the international nonprofit behind the swab drive that identified Kaelynn as the perfect match for Mads.
“We wouldn’t have him running around if he didn’t have a transplant,” Jennifer said during an interview conducted for DKMS. “We’re so thankful and obviously very happy.”
When Jennifer finally got to talk with Kaelynn face-to-face, she couldn’t hold back her tears.
‘I would do it 100 times over’
“First of all, thank you so much,” she told Kaelynn. “We, like, owe you everything. It’s so amazing that you did this at such a young age, and you’re so amazing. I hope you know how amazing you are.”
“Of course,” Kaelynn said with a big smile.
Finally seeing Mads and his family was “jaw-dropping,” Kaelynn told WCPO 9.
“It’s a big impact, yes, and you know what you’re doing,” she said. “But you don’t understand all that you’re doing until you actually meet the donor recipient and the family, and it’s like, wow.”
“Just to sit there and see a little boy who, you know, now is like officially a part of you forever,” she added. “You’re sitting there, and you’re like, oh my God, this poor baby went through so much, and that family went through so much.”
Kaelynn’s act of kindness has led to a new opportunity for her, too. She has become an advocate for DKMS to urge others to register with the nonprofit by doing a free cheek swab.
“The time it takes is worth nothing compared to the reward – absolutely nothing,” she said. “And they made it even easier for you now. You go to the DKMS website, you can sign up for the free swab that gets sent to your house. You do it, you send it back, and then you’re automatically in the system.”
That’s important, Kaelynn said, because 70% of all donors must come from outside a blood cancer patient’s family.
“This is a need,” she said. “I would do it 100 times over if I could.”
Acts of Kindness stories appear weekly on WCPO 9 News and WCPO.com. If you know about an act of kindness that you think should be highlighted, email email@example.com.