In just a couple weeks, a Plaquemines Parish family will make the long trek to Germany to attend a wedding. It's not technically for a family member, but a German cop who an LSU student now considers her “blood brother."
Sometimes in life we make the unlikeliest of friends. We're taught as kids friends can come in all shapes and sizes, races and religions; some live in your neighborhood, others, live across the globe.
Belle Chasse resident Barrett Remy can't wait for the trip of a lifetime she and her family are about to take.
“We're bringing the whole group,” Barrett’s dad, Troy Remy said.
Her mom, Michelle, adds, “A majority of the wedding party I think."
Talking via Skype is the primary way these friends chat.
“You're on the other side of the world so it’s so cool that we can do this,” German Christian Erdwich said.
They've only met in person once before but for Christian and his fiance Nina, inviting the Remy family to their upcoming nuptials in Germany is a no brainer.
“You're a part of our family,” Nina said.
Christian adds, “Yes, you're my blood sister now!”.
Today, Barrett Remy is a healthy 20-year-old who just finished her freshman year at LSU. But four years ago, her future looked uncertain after a devastating diagnosis.
“I thought this thing could never happen to me, but it did and it changed my life so much,” Barrett commented.
Mom Michelle says, “Leukemia, and I was like whoa, and it’s just like, it’s a shock.”
At 16, the vibrant teenager, who loved to dance, was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome, or MDS, a type of leukemia. The family immediately headed to Memphis, to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
Troy comments, “It’s like you went from watching a movie where you hear about kids and you see the St. Jude commercials on TV and you give your typical $25 a month and all of a sudden, you're the main character in the movie.”
Days in treatment, turned into weeks and then months. Finally came the news Barrett and her family had been praying for; a life-saving bone marrow donation.
“They found out that a German male, 26 at the time, was a match for me,” Barrett explained.
Motivated by his fiancee years before, Christian, a police officer, gave a swab of his DNA on a whim.
“They said the chance to be a match is one to one million,” Christian said.
Barrett is his one in a million.
Christian explains, “They said everything looks fine, so if you want, you can do this, so I said why not? Let’s do this.”
So, Christian underwent the procedure.
He says, “They took 1 1/2 liter of blood out of my body and they said your stem cells are going to America to a 16-year-old girl and I said oh wow, really, that’s so cool, and I was crying, yes, I was crying a little bit.”
Troy Remy continues, “For him to selflessly go through the process of getting vetted for the bone marrow, and then actually getting the call and doing it, and then saving a little girl's life across the world, he's a special person, he really is.”
Meanwhile, in Memphis, at St. Jude, Barrett endured a grueling pre-surgery regimen, prepping her body for the life-saving procedure. Afterwards, she was isolated to allow her immune system to recover from the surgery.
“We were probably there a good three months in that closed unit,” Michelle said.
Barrett says she was curious about who donated his cells to save her life. But strict laws surround donors and patients.
She explains, “You can't give out your name for two years, but you can communicate with them through letters.”
Snail mail it was, writing just enough to say hello, without revealing anything personal.
Barrett explains, "He would say donor and I would say, your donne.”
Then, at 18, Barrett received a trip to Paris from the Make-A-Wish foundation. Her parents came up with the perfect surprise. Waiting under the Eiffel tower, a symbol of strength and beauty in the Parisian city, Barrett met the man who brought her, new life.
She recalls, “I broke down and cried and then I hugged him. I didn’t know how to thank him, like how do you thank someone who saved your life, you know?”.
They chatted for hours, effortlessly connecting, instantly.
“It was really amazing, really,” Christian said.
Two years later, the Remy family is about to head overseas. Now it's Barrett's turn to support Christian.
“If it wasn’t for his stem cells, she wouldn’t be alive,” Michelle said.
Barrett adds, “I’m just so lucky I got to meet him, I mean, it’s amazing.”
Ten members of the Remy family will be there, looking on as Christian and Nina embark on a new life together. Just like the shot at life he gave Barrett, they pray it will be healthy and happy. Because that's what friends, who, through adversity, have now become family, are for.
Christian is now a major supporter of bone marrow donors, giving speeches to groups around Germany about the important of donating. Barrett, meanwhile, plans to graduate from LSU with a degree in nursing.