Chicago man, 26, gets 2nd chance at life from stem cell donation through Be The Match

Ruben Correa was diagnosed with leukemia at 13

ByVal Warner and Blanca Rios WLS logo
Tuesday, February 21, 2023
South Side man gets 2nd chance at life from stem cell donation
Chicago man Ruben Correa has a second chance at life thanks to a stem cell transplant he received eight years ago through Be the Match.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- You could be the cure for thousands of people diagnosed every year with life-threatening blood cancers.

"You don't think in a million years that you would need somebody else's stem cells for your cancer journey but it happens to kids every day," Sandy Correa.

Sandy is mother to Ruben Correa who was diagnosed with Leukemia at 13 years old.

"He went through a ton of chemo, radiation, steroids and after 3 and half years he had a couple of years of remission," said Sandy. "Then he went in for a checkup, normal checkup, no symptoms at all, and it had come back. And it came back strong."

That's when doctors turned to Be The Match. The non-profit connects patients with their donor match for a life-saving marrow or blood stem cell transplant.

"There was nobody he could turn to. We were older parents. We tried to donate. By the time he got sick, we were already too old," said Sandy. "18 to 41 is the age range today by which they look for donors."

Luckily for Ruben, a match was found quickly. About 3-thousand miles away from his East Side neighborhood home on the South Side of Chicago, a donor was found in Alaska. He didn't know it yet but her name was Emmy Ridgway. And instead of a bone marrow transplant, Emmy would be donating her stem cells.

"It's 7 hours versus maybe like a 45-minute procedure to get the bone marrow," said Ridgway. "It's like a very long process of giving blood. There's a little pain involved it's a little discomfort. But I was so excited, I was enthusiastic for it."

Once it was over, her life-saving stem cells quickly made their way to Ruben in Chicago.

"We were there, my husband and I and some family members and we watched him receive his cells which had just been flown in the night before."

And it worked. Ruben had his transplant in 2015. One year later he finally met Emmy.

"She came to Chicago in January 2017 and it felt great to finally meet her," said Ruben. "I'd say it was a heartwarming moment, a reminder that she's always going to be a part of my life."

"When you see the final product and they let me touch it. I got to hold the bag and it just looked like a bag life," said Ridgway. "This is the thing that's going to change that patient's life. This is what gives them another shot."

Ruben is now 26 years old and relishes every day of that second chance at life.

"I've been feeling great. I go to school, I'm outgoing I go out with friends. I go out for walks when it's nice out and this past November I had 7 years cancer free," said Ruben.