New Brunswick

'Thank you for saving my life': Fredericton girl meets bone marrow donor

Seven-year-old Rayne Bishop visited New Jersey this week to meet the man who saved her life.

Rayne Bishop received a bone marrow transplant in 2014, and this week she met her match

On Monday, Rayne Bishop of Fredericton met Tim Gibson, the man who saved her life. (Facebook)

Rayne Bishop has always had a love for superheroes, particularly the comic book character Black Widow. But earlier this week, the seven-year-old embraced a new hero, Tim Gibson, the man who saved her life.

At nine-months-old, the Fredericton girl was diagnosed with severe congenital neutropenia, a rare condition that results in a shortage of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell that plays a role in inflammation and fighting off infection in the body.

In Atlantic Canada, the Fredericton girl is the only person known to have developed this type of condition and the fifth in Canada. Doctors said most babies who have the condition don't live past the age of two and if they do, are likely to develop cancer.

"I went to bed every night wondering when that day was going to come," said Rayne's mom, April Bishop. "It was the last thing in my mind and the first thing on my mind, 'Is today going to be the day that she was going to develop cancer?'"

At nine months, Rayne Bishop was diagnosed with severe congenital neutropenia, a rare condition that results in a shortage of neutrophils, which later turned into cancer. (Facebook)

In the summer of 2014, right before a trip to the United States, that time came.

The disease eventually developed into myelodysplastic syndrome, also known as MDS, a disease of the blood and bone marrow, and AML, which is acute myeloid leukemia.

"It was just like my heart was being ripped out of my chest," said Bishop.

The family changed plans and drove Rayne to the IWK in Halifax.

"It's the worst feeling that any parent could ever have for their child." 

Waiting for a miracle

To beat the cancer, Rayne needed a bone marrow transplant, and she needed it soon.

"There were no other options for Rayne," Bishop said.

Doctors tested Bishop, husband Steve and son Hunter, none of whom were a match.

Then along came Tim Gibson from Sayreville, N.J., about 55 kilometres south of New York City, who wanted to give bone marrow donation a shot. 

Gibson, who works with a shipping company, had always felt a need to help others, he said.

He's donated blood numerous times, but at 21 he wanted to do something more.

It doesn't really hurt me, other than a little needle.-  Tim Gibson, bone marrow donor

"I figured that while I'm here, if I could help someone … it doesn't really hurt me other than a little needle," said Gibson, who is now 24.

He made the decision after a friend suggested he look into a U.S. bone marrow program.

"If I can save someone's life, might as well."

And that's exactly what he did.

In the fall of 2014, Rayne received Gibson's bone marrow in a transplant in Toronto, which treated all three of her conditions. Her recovery took more than a year.

But there was one more thing.

For more than two years, members of Rayne's family dreamed of meeting the man who saved her, so she could utter one simple phrase.

"Thank you for saving my life," Rayne Bishop told CBC News.

Meeting over lunch 

At 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, the Fredericton family drove down to Gibson's hometown in New Jersey.

The next day, over a plate of chicken fingers and fries in a small diner — and despite a huge pile of nerves, their dreams finally came true.

In the fall of 2014, Rayne Bishop received bone marrow from Tim Gibson of New Jersey, which saved her life. (Facebook)
"All I could do was just smile and hug the man," said Bishop, who initially reached out to Gibson through Facebook a few months ago.

Gibson was there with his fiancée, Erica, and five-month old daughter, Sierra.

"He was the only one that could save our baby," Bishop said. "I needed to see this person … if we didn't find a match, things would have been totally different."

During the encounter, the families talked about Rayne and her surgery, while Gibson recounted his own  experience.

Before the transplant, the New Jersey native underwent tests, blood work and a 30-minute operation, when doctors extracted three to four bags of marrow from his back. 

A process, Gibson said, that was worth it.

"It was just so amazing seeing the family and seeing ... the little girl I had saved," he said. "It seems so surreal now … it's so perfect."

'Like family'

The Bishops are meeting Gibson's parents on Tuesday night for supper and then heading home to New Brunswick.

Gibson, who wants to make a trip to New Brunswick someday, said he plans to donate again and recommends others do the same.

"It was just something I could do to help someone else," he said. "It's like we're family now." 

Steve Bishop and April Bishop and their children, Rayne and Hunter, all took part in the IWK Bridge Walk to help support the Halifax hospital. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

These days, Rayne, who is going into Grade 3, enjoys dancing, playing soccer and hanging out with friends. One day, she hopes to become a veterinarian.

And although her mom still worries about her daughter's health, she's hopeful Rayne will do whatever she sets her mind to.

"She's had so many hurdles to go over, and now she's on the path to living a normal life," said Bishop. "I want her to live a normal life like any child deserves."