The most anxious person at Citi Field Wednesday evening was nowhere near the Mets clubhouse. Rather, she was standing in a box down the right-field line in the mezzanine of the ballpark, awaiting a meeting that would change her forever.
Her name is Wendy Wax, and she’s a 43-year-old survivor of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. On this seasonal May night in Flushing, Wax was preparing to come face to face with the donor that saved her life three years ago. Through the organization Gift of Life, Wax was paired with a perfect blood stem-cell match. And thanks to surgery in October of 2014, she won her battle with the brutal disease and has the privilege of continuing to mother her nine-year-old daughter Ilana.
Just after 6 p.m. Wednesday, Wax finally met her donor, 28-year-old Ruchail Feldman, who gave birth to her first child in October. The meeting was emotional for both women, as well as their family members. They embraced and cried. Wax touched Feldman on the shoulder and held her hand.
“I know she’s real. But I want to confirm it,” Wax said nervously minutes before the meeting.
The excitement was palpable as Wax and Feldman posed for pictures after the meeting. They then walked outside to the seats overlooking the diamond and started to get to know each other. Later, Wax and Feldman were honored on the field before first pitch.
“We share things that nobody else could share,” Wax said. “I’m like her little carbon copy walking around.”
Wax was at Citi Field with Ilana, as well as her husband Andrew, her mother Linda and her bother Rob.
Rob and Linda were crying side-by-side as Wax and Feldman met for the first time.
“I almost lost her. And now I have her,” Linda said through tears. “It’s a miraculous feeling in my heart.”
Feldman said she had no hesitations about meeting Wax. Feldman described the experience as “overwhelming, exciting, terrifying” and “crazy.”
“There was no question about it,” Feldman said of her decision. “I just wanted to see the woman who has a part of me inside of her.”
Gift of Life – which has facilitated over 3,100 bone marrow and stem cell transplants since its founding 26 years ago – organizes between 10 and 20 donor-recipient meetings each year. Individuals can join Gift of Life’s donor pool simply by having their mouths swabbed with a cotton ball.
“The power of one person to swab their cheek literally saves the world and makes it a different place,” said Bill Begal, chairman of the board for Gift of Life.
Wax first learned she was suffering from leukemia in April 2014. She went to the emergency room for what she thought was dehydration. Instead, the hospital discovered a “sky high” white blood cell count. A day later, she learned of her diagnosis from a hematologist.
“All I kept repeating was, ‘But I have a six-year-old daughter. But I have a six-year-old daughter,'” Wax said.
Three years later, after a long recovery and courageous fight, Wax now also has a lifelong friend.
“I wouldn’t say it’s closure,” Wax said. “I think it’s like a new beginning. Like a new door has opened.”