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How this woman's selfless donation resulted in her dream honeymoon

Sept. 18, 2019
5 min read
How this woman's selfless donation resulted in her dream honeymoon
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Most 18-year-olds spend their time trying to figure out which college or profession would best match their goals and interests. In contrast, 18-year-old Jack Santos spent half of 2018 looking for a bone marrow donor match.

The Charlotte, NC, teen was diagnosed with aplastic anemia in March 2018, a life-threatening blood disease which causes the body to stop producing enough new blood cells. Aplastic anemia causes extreme fatigue and uncontrollable bleeding, and treatment required finding a donor whose bone marrow could replace Jack's diseased marrow — a difficult feat at best.

Photo courtesy of the Santos family.

The call went out: Jack's entire family, as well as multiple volunteers on donor registries across the country, underwent tests to see if their marrow was compatible with what Jack needed to survive. The only person who came up a perfect match was Jack's sister, Shelby.

Photo courtesy of the Santos family.

"I mean, how do I even put it into words?" Shelby told Good Morning America. "He's my baby brother; I've always been over-protective of him. I've always wanted to help him through life, but I never thought I'd be able to do it this way, so I'm just so beyond grateful that I could."

And thus it was that Jack and Shelby found themselves in neighboring hospital rooms on Sept. 12, 2018, where Shelby willingly underwent the medical procedure necessary to donate the marrow that would save Jack's life.

"I had to go through half-dose chemo and another drug which wiped out my immune system," Jack told Charlotte TV station WBTV. "Then they drew bone marrow from my sister who was in another room, and walked over and gave her marrow to me."

Photo courtesy of the Santos family.

Jack still had to endure a strenuous recovery process which required sterile isolation and a cocktail of medications. But everyone's wildest hopes came true once Shelby's healthy cells successfully wiped out Jack's disease. "We cured my aplastic anemia!” Jack told WBTV. "I still have routine follow-ups and vaccinations for my new immune system, but I’m cured."

Photo courtesy of the Santos family

You can't put a price tag on the gift of a second chance at life. But Jack, who was granted a wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, was able to work some magic that comes pretty close.

"Shelby just got engaged," Jack told Make-A-Wish, "and I was wondering if I could use my wish to send her on the honeymoon of her dreams." The nonprofit leadership team was intrigued, but had no prior precedent for granting something like this.

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Jack with his parents, Henry and Betsy Santos. Photo courtesy of the Santos family.

But Jack was persistent: he knew Shelby wanted "something beachy," and all he wanted was to make his sister's dreams come true. And once Sandals Resorts found out about Jack's wish, the all-inclusive Caribbean resort company began helping him plan the perfect way to grant her secret wish, timing the reveal to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the marrow donation.

That's how Jack managed to surprise Shelby with the honeymoon of her dreams today, Sept. 18 — and on national television, no less.

"I could never really ever fully repay you," Jack told Shelby live on Good Morning America Wednesday morning. "As you know, Make-A-Wish granted me a wish before I went into treatment last year. I was racking my brain thinking about what I wanted to do. They are generous enough to allow me to send you guys on a honeymoon of your choice."

Thanks to Sandals Resorts, Shelby and her fiancé Garrett will receive an all-expenses-paid, five-night stay in a Love Nest Butler Suite — the resort’s top room category — at any Sandals Resort of their choice. The all-inclusive honeymoon will include gourmet dining and nightly entertainment as well as land and water sports and activities.

Jack, Shelby and their brother, Hank. Photo courtesy of the Santos family.

The all-inclusive vacation package is a generous gift for a 19-year-old to give away, and Shelby said that she is "obviously in shock."

"This is something that Jack has been having to go through so for him to give [his wish] up and give to me — he didn’t have to do that and it’s amazing," Shelby said.

But for Jack, there's no question that his sister deserves it. "Shelby was my donor," he said. "She saved my life."

All images courtesy of the Santos family.

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