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From anonymous to lifelong friends

Cancer survivor meets donor years after life-saving transplant



It's likely happened to most of us at some point — a strange social media friend request from an unfamiliar name, with nothing much in common and no mutual friends.

"I got a random Facebook request and I didn't know who it was — from a guy in Idaho," recalled Nick Geddes, a local mountain biker and cancer survivor who underwent a successful bone marrow transplant in 2011.

"I was like, 'I'll just leave that in the pending box for now.'"

But this anonymous friend request — from Aaron Portmann, of Idaho Falls, Idaho — was no mistake.

In 2011, Portmann donated his bone marrow anonymously to Geddes — a high-risk leukemia patient.

The transplant saved Geddes' life — today, he's cancer-free and finishing up a degree in integrated engineering at the University of British Columbia.

But in the years following the transplant, neither man knew anything about the other.

All Portmann had to follow Geddes' progress was a case number.

After the two-year hold on information, Portmann filled out the necessary paperwork and was able to track Geddes down.

It wasn't until his nurse practitioner called to fill Geddes in that he realized who his anonymous Facebook friend was.

And on Dec. 29, 2015, donor met recipient for the very first time at the Vancouver International Airport.

"It's a little bit surreal I would say. It's hard to put into words the gratitude you have," Geddes said of that first meeting.

"It was pretty amazing," Portmann agreed. "To be able to see him healthy was the best thing."

Portmann — a 34-year-old electrical control specialist — originally signed up for the bone marrow donation registry to see if he matched with a sick friend in Idaho. When he was told he matched with a young man in Canada and asked if he would like to donate, there was little hesitation.

"I said, 'Of course I would, that's why I got on there,'" Portmann recalled.

"I went through the steps of making sure I was healthy, making sure we were a good match overall, and it turned out really well for him."

With the transplant completed, Geddes became what is known as a "chimera," or a person with two sets of DNA.

His tissue DNA remains his own, while the DNA in his blood is the same as Portmann's.

Portmann said he would "do it again in a heartbeat for anyone," but to see his donation go to Geddes was especially gratifying.

"I was hoping it would go to a good person. I was hoping that the person who received it would do a lot with their life," he said. "He's an excellent kid, he comes from an excellent family, and they've been nothing but kind to me, this stranger from Idaho that they don't even know.

"The thank you that he could give to me is how he's doing it now. Just being a good person, living a good life and making the most of it. That's all that I could ever ask for."

The entire experience has given Geddes a renewed sense of optimism about life.

"I think it's taught me to live in the moment, to not dwell too much on the past or look too much into the future, and really live every chance you can and live to the fullest, as cliché as that sounds," he said.

And as for that anonymous Facebook friend request? Geddes accepted, of course.

"It's official because it's on Facebook now. It was unofficial before. I've only got the guy's blood," he joked.

"I'd say that's a forever friend, there," Portmann added.

Both Geddes and Portmann stressed the importance of donating.

"Get on the list and save a life," Portmann said. "Anyone can do it. Make yourself available."

To learn more about becoming a bone marrow donor, head to or call 1-888-2-DONATE.