Montgomery man meets woman on Today Show whose life he saved - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Montgomery man meets woman on Today Show whose life he saved

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

As Dana Severson sat on the Today Show stage with Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford Monday to talk about overcoming her battle with leukemia and the bone marrow transplant that saved her life, she had no idea who was waiting in the wings to surprise her.

Six years ago, the Army vet was wondering if she would get to see her daughter grow up.

Severson, who lives in Illinois, served in the Army for six years as an Apache helicopter electrician and completed two tours in Korea and Iraq before leaving to start a family. She was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008.

After three rounds of high-dose chemotherapy, she was not cancer free and learned she needed a bone marrow transplant. She turned to the national bone marrow registry and learned that there was a match for her.

That stranger turned out to be Keith Engholm, a Air Force veteran living in Montgomery. Engholm had signed up for the bone marrow registry in the early 1980s and when he got the call about Severson years later, he agreed to donating his bone marrow.

"There was no other chance except for her to find a donor," he said.

Severson received the transplant and recovered. Since then, she has been making the most of her second chance at life, raising her daughter, taking up running and working with Be The Match, an organization that raises awareness about blood diseases and encourages people to become donors.

Over the years, Engholm and Severson spoke through letters and over the phone and connected on Facebook but had never met in person until this week.

Engholm's wife was the one who reached out to the Today Show about their story.

"We see so much bad on the news and to spread the word about something that has changed peoples lives, it was a journey that I enjoyed and I continued and I never gave up. I had to go to the networks several times before someone would listen to me but I knew it was a story worth telling," Mary Engholm said.

The producers at the Today Show facilitated the introduction and wanted it to be a surprise, keeping Engholm hidden from Severson at the studio until the right moment.

Hoda Kotb was reading from one of the letters Engholm had written Severson during the segment.

"He writes this: 'The few awards I've received in my 22.5 years of service don't come close to helping you," Kotb said.

And from the side of the stage, Engholm appeared and told Severson: "And I'm glad everything worked out." The two embraced for the first time and sat side by side on the set.

For Engholm, it was the highlight of a long journey that's forever united the two veterans.

"Just to see her and hold her and touch her, it just brought it all to life and here's a woman whose life I saved which changed many many lives in return," Engholm told WSFA. "My military career and accomplishments couldn't come close to doing something like this, to save somebody's life and to give her another chance. She's taken every opportunity to do that. She runs half marathons, she is going to get her bachelor's degree this month."

"We're excited about what our future holds and we're very proud of the woman that Dana has become and we're so proud that her daughter has been able to grow up with her mom," his wife added. "With my heart and with my soul, I've been so glad to see this journey come to a place where we finally are a part of each other's lives and I can tell you that our relationship with that family is never going to end."

After their big meet on the Today Show, Keith and his wife had a chance to spend some time with Dana Severson in New York City and in two weeks, they will travel to Illinois to meet Dana's family and doctor.

Keith Engholm hopes his story will encourage others to make life saving donations, whether it's being an organ or bone marrow donor or giving blood.

"If you can give someone a chance at life, give it," he said. "I'm so glad I did the Today Show. It was the perfect opportunity to get to know her better and foster our relationship for the future to come."

WSFA reached out to Dana Severson in Illinois and asked her about meeting Engholm for the fist time and she said it was like "finding a long lost relative."

"The overwhelming love and happiness that both Keith and Mary have given me has reassured my faith that good people are still out there. They have welcomed me and my family as one of their own and I hope that that bond strengthens even more. I am so happy that our story has touched people and I hope it inspires them to become hero's themselves like Keith and join the Be the Match registry and be the donor that saves someone's life," she said in a statement.

She also hopes her story and the impact of Keith's generosity will encourage others to become donors.

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