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A Mother's Love Finds Marrow Donor

To meet Kailee Wells is to meet a typical all-American eight-year-old girl. She likes dresses, storybooks, and stickers. But, observes co-anchor Hannah Storm on The Early Show, Kailee's quiet bravery makes her extraordinary.

And her parents, Linda and Owen Wells, have been desperately trying to find the ultimate needle in a haystack: a bone marrow match. Kailee needs a transplant.

Their story began as a mid-life adventure. Linda and Owen had already raised three biological children in Albuquerque, N.M. when they decided to adopt a baby from China.

"I held her within two or three minutes, and she was crying and arching her back, and I started rubbing my cheek against hers, and she started rubbing back. And that's when I knew," Owen says, his voice cracking.

"And she dozed off in his arms, " Linda recalls. "It was just, it was incredible. It was, it was beautiful."

They had all of the enthusiasm of first time parents.

But when Kailee turned five, she got sick. First, a dangerously high fever of 105 degrees. Then, a bloody nose that wouldn't stop, described by Linda as a "horror scene."

Kailee was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia: Her bone marrow wasn't producing the blood cells or platelets her body needed to fight infection.

"The doctor in the conference room said that she had about a 15 percent chance of surviving it," Linda tells Storm.

What was Linda's reaction?

"It was stunning at first, and then I just got up. I was angry. And I remember pounding the table and I said, 'No, this is not going to happen. This is not going to happen.' "

Linda and Owen went to work researching doctors and hospitals across the country, until they had a phone call with Dr. David Margolis in Milwaukee.

"I remember a very scared parent, which is very often the case with this rare disease," Margolis says.

Linda picks up the story: "(Margolis) said, 'If you're asking whether I save your child, I can't tell you that. If you're asking me if I'll do the best I can for her, I can tell you that I will do the best for her as if she were one of my own children.' "

Those were the words Linda and Owen needed to hear.

So, they left their family and jobs behind and moved halfway across the country to be near the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and Margolis, all the while hoping for a miracle.

Kailee, Storm explains, needed a bone marrow transplant. But of the 4.5 million people registered in the United States in the National Marrow Donor Program, not one was a match.

The best chance for a match is a biological relative. But no one knew who Kailee's birth parents were. The Wells decided to go looking.

"When I first went to Beijing," Linda says, "I had the address of the Red Cross and..."

"And a phone number and a name," Owen interjected, laughing.

Linda made two trips to China, spreading the word about her daughter. Donor registration in China shot up, but no luck. They tried one transplant with a less than perfect match, but it failed.

"And (Kailee) was gritting her teeth and biting her lips and trying to endure this," Owen remembers. "She was saying, 'I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.' "

Time was running out, and Linda and Owen were packed for another trip to China.

The day before they were to leave, Margolis received an urgent page from a colleague.

"I called her,'" he says, "and she said, 'Are you sitting down?' And I said, 'Yes.' And she said, 'We have a donor for Kailee.' "

The miracle had finally arrived, in the form of Wang lin, a 28-year-old Chinese doctor who turned out to be a near perfect match for Kailee.

In mid-October, he traveled to Beijing to under go his part of the procedure.

"I wish little Kailee can recover soon," he told us, in Chinese. "I hope the blood cells I donated can be like a seed of hope."

A world away, doctors have been preparing Kailee for the physically grueling procedure.

And now, with her best, and possibly last chance, Kailee is ready to fight.

Linda says, when she told Kailee she could have another transplant, she emphasized that it would only happen if Kailee wanted it to, and Kailee responded, 'I'm ready. Let's go.' "

Kailee goes in for her transplant Monday.

On Thursday, The Early Show will report on how she does and, in coordination with the National Marrow Donor Program and the New York Blood Center, will hold a marrow registry drive on the plaza at the General Motors building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

The drive will take place from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. There's no fee to register.

The National Marrow Donor Program says, "You could be the missing link.

"Each year, more than 35,000 children and adults develop life-threatening diseases of the blood or immune system, including leukemia, lymphoma and genetic diseases. For many of these individuals, the best hope for a cure is a marrow or blood cell transplant from a volunteer donor or donated cord blood unit. The New York Blood Center and the National Marrow Donor Program are sponsoring a donor drive that asks you to be that person. A marrow or cord blood transplant requires careful matching of patient and donor tissue types. Although a family member is the most desirable donor, 70 percent of patients do not have a matched family donor."

To locate a donor center near you, click here.

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