RICHMOND, Va. -- Nothing strengthens a bond more than a family reunion.
Even though 1,200 miles separate Ann Hollas and the Muncys, technology like FaceTime and Zoom keep them close.
The 23-year-old Texan and family of four from Virginia are still getting familiar after connecting last year.
It wasn't social media or a website like Ancestry.com that brought them together -- theirs is a relationship born out of necessity.
At six years old, Cooper Muncy fell ill just as the pandemic was taking hold.
“It was March 3rd, 2020,” said his dad, Dustin. “We noticed some bruising on his body on places that were totally random.”
His parents were blindsided.
“I knew in my gut that something, something was wrong,” recalled his mom, Jen.
A doctor’s visit confirmed the worst. Cooper was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Leukemia.
“That didn’t feel good I’ll tell you that. It was not fun,” said Cooper.
“We went to VCU thinking it would be for a few days. Never thinking it was going to be the better part of a year,” said Jen.
COVID-19 restrictions prevented Jen and Dustin from supporting Cooper together.
“It was one parent in and one parent out and I think that was the hardest part of it all,” said Jen.
The odds were stacked against the young patient.
“I never really laughed and I never really played,” said Cooper.
“There were times he wanted to quit. I had to tell him I am not going to sit here and watch you die. We have to do this,” said Dustin.
Cooper’s only hope was a transplant of bone marrow.
“It was very difficult and I remember there were times where he said, ‘I just want to go to heaven.' As a mom of a six-year-old, you don’t want your son to have to hear that,” said Jen.
No family member matched, but there was a complete stranger who did.
Ann, a senior at Stephen F. Austin State University, got a call.
“They told me it was for a six-year-old boy with Leukemia, and that is all I knew,” recalled Anne. “No kid deserves to go through any of that, so I wanted to help in any way I could right away.”
Four years ago she registered as a donor with Be the Match. The woman who aspires to be a doctor knew she needed to act -- even in the middle of the pandemic.
“I was excited to get the process started, I guess,” said Ann.
Dustin and Jen’s prayers were answered by the Lone Star angel.
“We didn’t know a name. She didn’t know a name. 22-year-old female. Six-year-old male. That was it."
Days drag into weeks.
“Every day was like 'Is today the day? Are we going to get answers today?'” said Dustin.
Finally, doctors deliver a prognosis. Ann’s marrow works.
“She gave something to Cooper that we couldn’t give her. She gave Cooper something that couldn’t be bought. And that is something we could never say ‘thank you’ enough for,” said Dustin.
Cooper and his family thanked their real life super hero in-person this week.
“Just watching her reach the top of the escalator and come down,” said Jen. “I don’t think there was a dry eye in that airport. It was so incredibly special.”
A moment at RIC 14 months in the making.
“We were joyful that she got to come. She is pretty nice and she is pretty good,” said Cooper.
“I am pretty sure I’ve cried throughout this process too. Tears of Joy for sure at this point,” said Ann.
Ann Hollas’ ultimate act of kindness leads to new relatives in Virginia.
“She will always be a part of our family,” said Dustin.
Technology can keep you tight, but no bond is greater than Ann’s miracle marrow.
“Being able to give the gift of life, especially to a kid like Cooper,” said Ann. “Just giving them a chance of hope and a future is incredible.”
“I thank her very, very, very much for healing me,” said Cooper. “Her drawing blood. Now I have it inside my body. And hopefully it will never have to happen to us again.”
After Ann’s visit to Virginia, the Muncys would like to return the favor and travel to Texas to see Ann.
Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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