Seven-year-old Dax Schieffer is full of smiles.

And after a year and a half of sending anonymous letters, cards and gifts back and forth, Dax got to show off his grin to the woman who donated her bone marrow to him. Dax has dyskeratosis congenita, a rare progressive bone marrow failure syndrome.

“I’m just grateful to be part of it,” said Jennifer Hawkins, the donor. “Because seeing the smile on his face and knowing this small thing that I did helped to give his smile a little more strength ... I’ll be forever grateful.”

Hawkins, who is a teacher in Texas, joined the bone marrow donor registry in April 2016, while her sister was battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma and a girl in her class had cancer. There are lots of stories about people with cancer or people who need bone marrow transplants, she said, but when it hits home, it makes it real.

After tests and doctors visits, she was flown out to Washington, D.C. to have her marrow extracted. Overall, she said she felt tired and took a few naps throughout the day, but she wasn’t sore and went sightseeing the next day. Though she wouldn’t want to do it again because that would mean someone had gotten sick, she said she’d do it in a heartbeat.

“The side effects were nothing like I thought they’d be,” she said.

Meanwhile, Dax was waiting for his transplant in Seattle. When someone needs a bone marrow transplant, doctors often try to use siblings as donors because they have a similar genetic makeup.

Dax is an only child, though, so that wasn’t an option. Some people can have a rare bone marrow type, but Dax’s dad, also Dax Schieffer, said he and his wife were relieved to hear there were plenty of possible matches. Out of all the possible donors, though, just a handful of people were high-quality matches. And Hawkins ended up being the donor.

After the transplant in June 2017, young Dax had to spend several months in Seattle for close monitoring. Now that the waiting is over, though, Dax is back in Montana and attended kindergarten this past year.

His parents describe him as a rambunctious, outgoing kid, and his grandma, Deanna Schroeder, said he is kind, considerate and “a very conscientious little guy.”

The Schieffers weren’t able to know who Hawkins was until a year after the transplant. After connecting in December 2018, they planned a trip for Hawkins to come to Montana this week and meet Dax and his parents and visit Yellowstone National Park.

On Saturday, they held an open house so friends, family and Bozeman residents could hear their story and learn more about becoming a bone marrow donor.

“I feel like I’m meeting superheroes,” she said. “I’m just grateful to be a part of his journey.”

Those interested in becoming donors can text TeamDax to 61474 or visit join.bethematch.org/teamdax.

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Abby Lynes can be reached at alynes@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2651. Follow her on Twitter @Abby_Lynes.

Abby Lynes covers business and the economy for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

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