Tina Kunath and Jan Wolfenstädter didn’t know each other and lived different lives. But then Kunath fell ill and needed stem cells – and Wolfenstädter got a call. They have now been good friends for ten years. A meeting.

Some people are connected by their time at school, others become friends in a football club or at work. Jan Wolfenstädter and Tina Kunath’s story together begins with a diagnosis. Kunath was eight years old when doctors diagnosed her with blood cancer. The young girl needed a stem cell donor. She found one in Wolfenstädter – but not only that. She also found a friend for life. For her second life.

The story of the friendship between Tina Kunath and Jan Wolfenstädter – now 21 and 34 years old – is an extraordinary one, that’s for sure. “You notice that you are connected in a different way,” says Kunath as she tells her story over peppermint tea in Cologne. Wolfenstädter sits opposite with a double espresso and nods.

The two met at the DKMS in the city on the Rhine these days. The organization, which is dedicated to the fight against blood cancer, is an important part of its history. According to its own information, DKMS provides an average of 23 stem cell donors per day in Germany. That was also the case with Wolfenstädter and Kunath – but their case has another special touch. There is something to celebrate: the two have been friends for ten years now. They want to visit Cologne Cathedral straight away.

DKMS gGmbH is an international non-profit organization dedicated to the fight against blood cancer. The goal is to give as many patients as possible a second chance at life.

Here’s how you can help: Are you healthy and between 17 and 55 years old?

Then register with DKMS at www.dkms.de

It all starts in 2011, when Wolfenstädter, who now lives in Berlin, gets a call, as they both say. He actually has a strict cell phone ban during his training – but the number gives him a clue. It is a Tübingen connection – the DKMS headquarters is there. Not long ago, Wolfenstädter registered as a possible stem cell donor. So he answers it. “Then it was a very short conversation,” he says. “Essentially it was about the question of what I’m going to do next week.” For him, it’s clear what needs to be done.

Things weren’t looking good for Tina Kunath, who comes from near Köthen in Saxony-Anhalt. Chemotherapy does not achieve the hoped-for success. She has to spend her life in an isolated room. “I noticed the seriousness of the situation as a child,” she says looking back. It’s a quiet, secluded life for a once lively child. But then comes the news that a possible donor has been found. “I knew then that this was probably a new chance for me to get better.”

In the form of blood cancer that Tina Kunath suffered from, so-called blood-forming stem cells are defective. As a result, fewer and fewer blood cells enter the bloodstream, which can be life-threatening in the long term. During a stem cell transplant, healthy blood-forming stem cells are taken from a donor. Roughly speaking, the recipient’s defective stem cells are then exchanged for the donor’s healthy ones.

At the time, Wolfenstädter and Kunath didn’t really know who each other was, as they said. But that changed in 2014, when the DKMS launched the first “World Blood Cancer Day” (WBCD), which is intended to raise awareness of the topics of blood cancer and stem cell donation and which is coming up again in a few days, on May 28th. At this event, Wolfenstädter and Kunath, whose lives have long been intertwined, see each other in the eyes for the first time.

Wolfenstädter says that when he made the donation, he already knew that it might be possible to save a life. “But it only became clear when we met. When the face was there.” He still remembers exactly how the donor and recipient met at the event. All he knew was that it had to be a young girl. So he looked down rather than up. But he didn’t have to look for long. “We knew straight away,” says Wolfenstädter. “In that second.”

The special thing is that it doesn’t just remain a one-off encounter. Tina Kunath and Jan Wolfenstädter are not only “genetic twins”, as the DKMS calls them in connection with stem cell donation – but they are also fundamentally likeable. They become friends. They visit each other regularly. Kunath was recently in Berlin, where Wolfenstädter works for an aircraft engine manufacturer. They celebrate birthdays, talk about music. This morning they talked shop about cooking.

When asked what the foundation of this friendship is, Kunath says that Jan Wolfenstädter is, in a way, a kind of other big brother for her. The 34-year-old describes it similarly. “It’s friendship, but it also has a family component,” he says. It’s a kind of connection that you can perhaps only understand if you are part of it. Separate lives, different family trees – and yet connected by a biological component. Through cells.

Kunath is now studying law in Halle (Saale) and is thinking about becoming a lawyer. She also skis regularly, a great passion of hers even before she became ill. She plays tennis and is often outside. “Of course everything is working again now,” she says. Tina Kunath is considered cured.

Your life is noisy again now. Also because she and Wolfenstädter have been to a metal music festival twice now. “I just took you with me,” he says to her. “It was also great.”