She found him: a 1-in-6 million lifesaver, and a complete stranger video

LAWRENCE SMITH/Stuff.co.nz

Tiari Barber has an incredibly rare form of anaemia. Pictured in Starship Hospital enduring chemotherapy that is wiping out her own bone marrow to make way for the donor's.

It was day 50 since diagnosis, and Tiari Barber, 11, was in a Starship Hospital isolation ward, waiting for her chance to live.

Of the 28 million registered bone marrow donors in the world there were only five matches for Tiari, and they had found one: a stranger, and matching donor, willing to help.

Tiari discovered she had a rare, life-threatening form of anaemia after a rugby league injury, and since then has been on a whirlwind journey of diagnosis, chemotherapy and now a bone marrow transplant.

Tiari Barber before her bone marrow transplant.
Lawrence Smith

Tiari Barber before her bone marrow transplant.

On Monday it was day 126 since diagnosis and Tiari was home in Otaki, north of Wellington, speaking along with mum Kerianna Stirling about life after her transplant.

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Tiari was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia, one of only five people in New Zealand with the disease where bone marrow stops producing blood and immunity cells.

Tiari has an incredibly rare form of anemia that could kill her. Pictured in Starship Hospital enduring chemotherapy ...
Lawrence Smith

Tiari has an incredibly rare form of anemia that could kill her. Pictured in Starship Hospital enduring chemotherapy that wiped out her own bone marrow to make way for the donor's.

Her first symptom was a bruise that covered her whole thigh after an opposition player stood on it during a tackle in an under-11 rugby league match. Then she had flu-like symptoms.

Blood tests were so serious she was on a flight to Auckland the same day, and had a bone marrow biopsy the next morning. 

Blood was found quickly, but a bone marrow donor was hard to come by. The search went to the national bone marrow registry, and offshore, after her parents and siblings weren't a match.  Five potential matches were found worldwide. One proved suitable.

Tiari Barber with her mum Kerianna Stirling in Starship Hospital.
Lawrence Smith

Tiari Barber with her mum Kerianna Stirling in Starship Hospital.

In September Stirling was with Tiari at Starship, and said they felt lucky to have even five potential matches.

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"They said they were amazed at how many donors came back ... there's hardly anyone on the registry. I don't know how we got lucky with five.  Thank you for giving my daughter a life ...  A huge thank you for being her superhero. What a huge gift he's given our daughter."

Tiari's new bone marrow was harvested from the donor, in mid-September, then given to her via blood transfusion. Her own marrow had been wiped out with chemotherapy.

Recovering from chemotherapy in Starship Hospital is Tiari Barber, 11, awaiting a bone marrow transplant to help cure ...
Supplied

Recovering from chemotherapy in Starship Hospital is Tiari Barber, 11, awaiting a bone marrow transplant to help cure her rare aplastic anaemia.

On Monday, Tiari said it was good to be back home after spending three months in hospital in Auckland.

There were "a lot of hugs" waiting for her when she returned to school, she said. 

Her recovery was going well, and her pain levels had fallen from the transplant, an experience she said that left her "pretty sore".

Kerianna Stirling, with daughter Tiari Barber. Stirling shaved her head to support Tiari after her chemotherapy.
Supplied

Kerianna Stirling, with daughter Tiari Barber. Stirling shaved her head to support Tiari after her chemotherapy.

A keen sportsperson, Tiari played netball, softball and hockey, and performed kapa haka before her diagnosis. 

Last week she returned to the softball diamond, but after one run around the bases she was spent, her mum said.

New Zealand Bone Marrow Donor Registry donor coordinator Carolyn Crump said of about 28 million bone marrow donors worldwide, 22 million are of European descent.

Finally at home, Tiari Barber, centre, with her sister Kaylah Stirling-Kelly, and mother Kerianna Stirling. Also ...
Adam Poulopoulos

Finally at home, Tiari Barber, centre, with her sister Kaylah Stirling-Kelly, and mother Kerianna Stirling. Also pictured is her new dog Wolf.

In New Zealand the balance went the other way: about 9000 of New Zealand's 13,000 bone marrow donors were Maori or Pacific Islanders, she said.

This was because the organisation did not actively target European donors who had high worldwide number already.

Stirling said looking around the hospital, the need for Maori and Pacific Island donors was clear, with patients more likely to match with someone of the same ethnicity or ancestral background.

On the weekend Tiari went hunting in the hills near Otaki – part of a recovery that her mum said was helped simply by being home.

"It's been so cool just to be back ... it's the simple things. To go out and look at the stars and feel the breeze. All the simple things we took for granted." 

Tiari's hair is growing back from her chemo, and her mum has shaved hers to help support her daughter.

"She was a bit shy going out in public with no hair ... now she owns it," Stirling said.

 - Stuff

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