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Stranger Donates Stem Cells In Hopes Of Curing New York Woman With Leukemia

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A New York woman battling leukemia was especially grateful this Thanksgiving, as she credited the kindness of a total stranger with helping save her life.

"They found the donor, and it was just basically like a weight lifted off my shoulders," said Jeanine Walsh, 38.

As CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reported Thursday, Walsh – the mother of two young children – has been battling leukemia for the second time in two years.

"I was in total and complete shock," she said.

No members of Walsh's family were a match for her, but a willing donor was found through the national registry. Peripheral stem cells were collected from the donor, located in the Western U.S., earlier this week.

The process took just a few hours.

"We attach the patient, that is the donor, to a machine. The machine takes blood form the donor, filters out the stem cells if you will, and returns the rest of the blood to the donor," said Dr. Michael Schuster, director of stem cell transplantation at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Schuster said a stem cell transplant is critical for Walsh.

"When leukemia comes back, as it has in this case, there is zero chance for a cure without a transplant," he said.

Jeanine Walsh's husband, Shane Walsh, was optimistic.

"We'll get through it. She'll get through it," he said. "We did it once. We'll do it again, right?"

Jeanine Walsh was recovering from chemotherapy this week, and will have another round of aggressive chemo to prepare for transplant. She called her anonymous donor her miracle.

"They're basically, you know, saving my life, and they don't even know who I am," she said.

The family hopes they will be celebrating Jeanine's transplant in the next few weeks.

"I'm going to do everything and life a long happy life," she said.

The beauty of the process is that unlike a bone marrow donation, stem cell donation is no worse than giving blood. The chemo is what wipes out the leukemia cells in the bone marrow, and then the stem cells restore the bone marrow – which is essential for life.

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