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Noelle Boughton (left) with her brother, Randy, before his transplant. Photo: Courtesy of Marianne Campa

How a medical miracle gave this writer a new perspective on Easter

Noelle Boughton has a new perspective on faith's greatest miracle — thanks to the medical miracle that resurrected her younger brother.

By Noelle Boughton

In February 2017, my younger brother, Randy, was diagnosed with an aggressive leukemia. We had to find a stem cell donor, soon, or he’d die.

It took several medical assessments and weeks of waiting for results before I was deemed a match. I hoped we could do the transplant immediately, but Randy’s doctor insisted he complete his chemotherapy first. The treatments were torturing him. His injection sites were not healing. He was often too weak to walk. He was dying.

In May, we finally heard that we could proceed. I finished a battery of tests to ensure that I was fit to donate, then on June 19, I flew from Toronto to Calgary to finish the pre-screening. Five days later, I began daily injections to make my body grow extra stem cells that the clinic could harvest. Randy was admitted to hospital, stepping up his chemical cocktail intake. Sometimes he’d hallucinate. More often, he waited listlessly.

Given my research, I expected to be in pain. But it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared, and my daily blood tests showed the cells multiplying. It was working. The night before I donated, I felt pregnant with stem cells. Finally, on June 28, I spent more than seven hours lying in Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre, donating a bag of stem cells separated from my blood. The next morning, a nurse infused my brother by an IV drip, and we resumed waiting.

Over the next 12 days, the staff members adjusted Randy’s drugs to hold my stem cells at bay while they killed his immune system to replace it with mine. Finally, after flirting with death and losing 50 pounds, Randy’s stem cell count started climbing. We could finally hope he would live.

Participating in this modern miracle changed my perspective on the Easter resurrection. I see three parallels.

The first is waiting. Jesus knew what he was getting into even before the Passion story began, but he had to wait for each step to unfold. Palm Sunday. Judas’s betrayal. The trial. Peter’s denial. Even death — and resurrection. It was not to be hurried. Like Randy’s, Jesus’ story kept easing to conclusion.

Next, there were trials. As with my brother, Jesus was constantly tested as he marched toward death. Disciples disappointed him at Gethsemane. He was beaten after his arrest, then had to carry his cross to Golgotha.

Finally, there was hope. Whether you interpret scripture literally or metaphorically, the Easter story invites us to look beyond the waiting and trials that comprise our lives and faith — and to hope that resurrection is possible. That’s what I reaped from my brother’s story, too: hope that he would not only live, but return to a full life.

This trinity — waiting, trials and hope — is the core of our faith. We are constantly called to believe in something beyond ourselves that renews life and opens us up to all of the possibilities of what it means to be fully alive.

Easter is poignant for me this year. Christ will die and rise again, but so has my brother. He is underweight, but home and healing, and hoping to soon resurrect his full life.

Noelle Boughton is a Toronto writer and editor.
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