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Teen meets bone marrow donor who saved his life

By: Georgia Rogers

May 26, 2007

A bone marrow transplant or death. That was the stark, scary choice facing south Tempe teen Justin Cude in 2003.

Just 13 years old at the time, Cude (pronounced Kewd) was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia , an aggressive form of cancer that could have spelled the end of his young life. But an unseen ray of hope was on his horizon.

That life-saving gift came in the form of a bone marrow donation from a young woman living almost 5,800 miles away, Ina Sondershaus.

Today, Sondershaus looms large in the widespread community that has supported and given strength to the now 17-year-old Cude. That community, which started with his immediate family, took on a life of its own to become an inter-continental network in just a few short years.

The sentiment “no man is an island” definitely applies to this young man’s story. But this “circle of life” wouldn’t seem complete if Cude and his bone marrow donor had never met.

On May 18, Cude and his family got the rare privilege of coming face to face with the young woman whose marrow donation saved Justin. Sondershaus, 32, traveled with her mother, Christa, from Augsburg, Germany, near Munich, to meet them and enjoy the sights of Arizona for a few days.

By international law, both she and the Cude family had to wait until two years after Justin’s transplant to decide if they wanted to reveal their identities to one another. Many donors and recipients around the world choose to remain anonymous.

Cude said he felt relieved to finally meet Sondershaus and thank her for changing his life. The awkward part of their first tear-filled encounter was that it took place in front of about 70 other people at a press conference in Phoenix. The overwhelming nature of that moment, however, probably made them feel like the only two people in the world.

The event was hosted by the City of Hope-Banner Bone Marrow Transplant Program. It is through that Phoenix-based program that Cude received his first transplant in late 2004 and crucial follow-up treatment. In addition, City of Hope underwrote Sondershaus’ six-day trip to Arizona.

“I was very nervous, but I really wanted to meet Justin to see that he’s alive and healthy,” Sondershaus said. “This is overwhelming and very emotional. You give of yourself (as a marrow donor), but don’t know the person who will get it.”

More than anything, the Cude family hopes Justin’s story will encourage others to become prospective donors. (You can go online to and enter the keywords “bone marrow transplant” to register. Another option is to register with the National Marrow Donor Program by calling (1-888) 999-6743 or visiting The national program is working to register 20,000 additional donors.

“Bone marrow transplants work,” said Mike Cude, Justin’s father. “That’s why Justin is here today.”



Photo by Valley Lutheran HS


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