NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - It didn't take long for Lael McGrath and Wiebka Rudoph to realize they have a lot in common.
"I find it's like in those movies that you see, where (long-lost) siblings getting together," McGrath said. "We do things that are the same. We do things we think are a little bit alike. We do have somethings that are similar. We both like to do our eyebrows."
Oh, and against astronomical odds, they have matching bone marrow, too.
McGrath, the Ocean County mother, and Rudolph, the recent college graduate from central Germany, stood arm-in-arm at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital on Friday. There were smiles and hugs and even beautiful bouquets of cut flowers that transformed the room into a celebration of life and life saved.
On Dec. 16, 2016, McGrath underwent a matched unrelated donor allogeneic stem cell transplant that saved her life after she had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
The bone marrow from Rudolph was transferred into McGrath, who was referred to the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and RWJUH.
Rudolph was still in high school when she saw an advertisement on Facebook asking for people to volunteer to do a s quick sweep of their mouth and submit the saliva-coated cotton swab to a donor database.
"But," said Rudolph, "you never think of the consequences of it."
A few months later, she was notified that she was a match. All she knew was that she had the opportunity to save a woman in the United States.
Halfway around the world, Rudolph began going to Frankfort for a battery of tests. The drugs she had to take before the marrow was extracted took a toll on her.
On the other side of the world, the transplant was similar to a blood transfusion for McGrath.
Under the care of Vimal Patel, a hematologist/oncology at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Mary Kate McGrath (no relation), bone marrow transplant coordinator, the retired second-grade teacher, avid runner and yoga enthusiast began to get better.
As her body recuperated, she often wondered who had saved her life.
McGrath, 67, and Rudolph, 21, connected first through email. Then they began to text. Then they met vis-a-vis via FaceTime. McGrath was eager to show her daughter and all of her extended family - "She looks like my nieces," McGrath points out.
Rudolph seems a little shy and unsure of how to react when it's suggested that she's a hero who saved a life.
"I don't know what to say to that," she said.
But when she was asked if she would be a donor again, she didn't hesitate to say, "Definitely."
She's happy to have a new best friend and get the chance to visit the New York/New Jersey area. She went to the beach for the first time yesterday and splashed in the ocean for the first time.
She's planning to play host when McGrath comes to Kassel, a city of 200,000 or so people.
"I will definitely go to Germany," McGrath said. "My husband promised me that wherever my donor was, he was taking me there."