An emotional phone call changed everything for Jan Wolfenstädter. Not only did he save a girl from death, but he also gained a friend for life.

Some people bond over their time at school together, others make friends in a football club or at work. For Jan Wolfenstädter and Tina Kunath, their shared story begins with a diagnosis.

Kunath was eight years old when doctors diagnosed her with blood cancer. The young girl needed a stem cell donor. She found him in Wolfenstädter – but not only that. She also found a friend for life. For her now second life.

The story of the friendship between Tina Kunath and Jan Wolfenstädter – now 21 and 34 years old – is an extraordinary one, you can say that. “You notice that you are connected in a different way,” says Kunath as she tells her story over peppermint tea in Cologne. Wolfenstädter sits opposite with a double espresso and nods.

The two met at the DKMS in the city on the Rhine these days. The organization dedicated to the fight against blood cancer is an important part of its history. On average, DKMS provides 23 stem cell donors per day in Germany.

That was also the case with Wolfenstädter and Kunath – but their case has another special note. There’s something to celebrate: The two have been friends for ten years now. They want to visit Cologne Cathedral straight away.

It all starts in 2011, when Wolfenstädter, who now lives in Berlin, gets a call, as they both say. He actually has a strict cell phone ban during his training – but the number gives him something to suspect. It is a Tübingen connection – the DKMS headquarters is there.

Not long ago, Wolfenstädter registered as a possible stem cell donor. So he answers it. “Then it was a very short conversation,” he says. “Essentially it was about the question of what I’m going to do next week.” It’s clear to him what needs to be done.

Things weren’t looking good for Tina Kunath, who comes from near Köthen in Saxony-Anhalt. Chemotherapy does not achieve the hoped-for success. She has to spend her life in an isolated room. “I noticed the seriousness of the situation as a child,” she says looking back.

It’s a quiet, secluded life for a once lively child. But then comes the news that a possible donor has been found. “I knew then that this was probably a new chance for me to get better.”

In the form of blood cancer that Tina Kunath suffered from, so-called blood-forming stem cells are defective. As a result, fewer and fewer blood cells enter the bloodstream, which can be life-threatening in the long term. During a stem cell transplant, healthy blood-forming stem cells are taken from a donor. Roughly speaking, the recipient’s defective stem cells are then exchanged for the donor’s healthy ones.

At the time, Wolfenstädter and Kunath didn’t really know who each other was, as they said. But that changed in 2014, when the DKMS launched the first “World Blood Cancer Day” (WBCD), which is intended to raise awareness of the issues of blood cancer and stem cell donation and which is coming up again in a few days, on May 28th. At this event, Wolfenstädter and Kunath, whose lives have long been intertwined, see each other for the first time.

Wolfenstädter says that it was clear to him when he made the donation that it could potentially save a life. “But it really only became clear when we got to know each other. If the face was there for it.”

He still remembers how donors and recipients met at the event. He just knew that it had to be a young girl. So he looks down rather than up. But he doesn’t have to search for long. “We knew immediately,” says Wolfenstädter. “In the second.”

The special thing is that it doesn’t just remain a one-off encounter. Tina Kunath and Jan Wolfenstädter are not only “genetic twins”, as the DKMS calls them in connection with stem cell donation – but they are also fundamentally likeable.

They become friends. They visit each other regularly. Kunath was recently in Berlin, where Wolfenstädter works for an aircraft engine manufacturer. They celebrate birthdays, talk about music. This morning they talked shop about cooking.

When asked what the foundation of this friendship is, Kunath says that Jan Wolfenstädter is in a way a kind of other big brother for her. The 34-year-old describes it similarly. “It’s friendship, but it also has a family component,” he says.

It’s a kind of connection that perhaps you can only understand if you’re part of it. Separate lives, different family trees – and yet connected by a biological component. Through cells.

Kunath is now studying law in Halle (Saale) and is thinking about becoming a lawyer. She also skis regularly, a great passion of hers even before she became ill. She plays tennis and is often outside. “Of course everything is working again now,” she says. Tina Kunath is considered cured.

Your life is noisy again now. Also because she and Wolfenstädter have been to a metal music festival twice now. “I just took you with me,” he says to her. “It was also great.”

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