At 11 years old, Laila Anderson finally met the kind young man who donated his bone marrow, giving her a second chance at life.

Laila’s health issues began at age 9 when she started experiencing frequent headaches and bouts of unresponsiveness. One day, after collapsing while getting out of the car, her parents rushed her to the hospital.

“She was just a normal kid until one day our whole world got flipped upside down,” said Heather Anderson, Laila’s mother.

Doctors were initially baffled, and it took 16 months and several misdiagnoses before they discovered that Laila had Isolated Central Nervous System HLH, a rare and serious autoimmune disease where the body produces too many immune cells that then attack the body.

“Basically my cells can fight the bad stuff, but they can’t really stop fighting… and my immune cells started fighting each other,” Laila explained.
Despite her condition, Laila maintained her joyful spirit and continued being a devoted St. Louis Blues hockey fan. The team even named her a superfan, inspired by her resilient attitude.

Doctors informed Laila that she needed a bone marrow transplant to survive and had to undergo 10 weeks of intense chemotherapy. They also needed to find a perfectly matched donor, which is where 18-year-old Kenton Felmlee came into the picture.

Kenton, a pre-med student at the University of Kansas, grew up seeing his father struggle with a common variable immunodeficiency disorder, a condition that often left him sick and unable to spend time with his family. Witnessing his father’s pain motivated Kenton to help others.

“That really impacted me to do my best to try to make a change in other people’s lives,” Kenton said.
Inspired by a Be The Match drive presentation, Kenton joined the bone marrow registry. Three months later, he learned he was the best match for a 10-year-old girl in need. Without hesitation, he agreed to donate.

“I had to pull over because I couldn’t stop crying,” Kenton recalled. “It was one of the best days of my life.”
Laila and her family were overjoyed to learn that a donor had been found.

“I got the call saying that one person is a perfect match and they not only agreed to save Laila’s life, but they said they were excited in capital letters,” Heather said. “Every parent deserves that call saying, ‘We found a match.'”
Kenton’s donation was successful, and Laila’s surgery went well. She spent a month in isolation to avoid infection, and a few months later, she rang the hospital bell signaling the end of her treatment.

Though Laila and Kenton hadn’t met in person, they exchanged letters and felt a special bond. In one of her letters, Laila wrote, “Your best friend, whether you like it or not,” which made Kenton laugh.

Finally, Laila and Kenton met at a Be The Match event. Their emotional embrace on stage was heartwarming, as Kenton had become more than just a donor; he was family to Laila.

“We are part of each other now. There’s no separating us,” Laila said.
Be The Match continues to save lives, and if you want to help patients like Laila, visit their website. Watch the touching video of Laila meeting Kenton: