ST. PETERSBURG — The VanHoy family of Brooksville — parents Randy and Dara and children Cole, Randelle and Cloie — searched Sunday evening for a big kapok tree near South Straub Park. They were looking for the man who saved Cole's life.
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In 2008, 8-year-old Cole was battling two types of cancer and needed a bone marrow transplant. The doctors said if they couldn't find a match, Cole would have only a few months to live.
None of the other VanHoys had compatible bone marrow. Neither did anyone who came to a blood drive in Brooksville.
The VanHoys trace their lineage to Germany, so the doctors contacted a bone marrow organization there. In Cologne, Germany, they found a match — a 38-year-old man named Frank Edelmeier.
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Edelmeier, now 42, stood by the kapok tree. His girlfriend, Simone Luette, held a bag containing a black-and-yellow ball cap.
After he donated the bone marrow in 2008, Edelmeier tried to contact the VanHoys. He wanted to find out if Cole had recovered.
But the German organization that runs bone marrow donations has a policy — donors can't reach out to recipients until two years after the transplant.
In 2010, the organization gave Edelmeier the VanHoys' contact information. He sent an email and a letter, but never heard back.
Earlier this year, while planning a Florida vacation with his girlfriend and son, Edelmeier tried one last time. He typed "Cole VanHoy" into an Internet search engine. He found two Times articles about VanHoy from 2008. After sending an email to the reporter who wrote the stories, a meeting was arranged.
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Edelmeier shook Cole's hand, then dropped down to his knees so he'd be at eye-level with the 12-year-old. Cole is shy, and didn't talk much. He did smile, though.
"You have no idea who I am, do you?" Edelmeier asked.
Cole shook his head.
His parents had kept it a surprise. They hadn't told him why they were driving from Brooksville to St. Petersburg this Easter.
"Wow, you look great," Edelmeier said.
Cole has recovered. The chemotherapy and radiation treatment left him with a weakened immune system, but other than that he's a typical 12-year-old. He likes to hunt and walk around the farm his family lives on with his dogs.
Edelmeier handed Cole the hat. The colors and insignia stand for Borussia Dortmund, his favorite soccer team in Germany.
"You don't have to wear it if you don't like it," Edelmeier said.
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It's been a tough few years for the VanHoys. Cole has recovered, but Dara, 43, was diagnosed with colon cancer last July. A few months later, Dara's mother was diagnosed with cancer. Both are still fighting their illnesses.
But Sunday night, the family tried to forget about that, and to enjoy the company of the man who saved their Cole. They talked to Edelmeier about the chances that had brought them together.
Behind them, Cole climbed onto the kapok tree, and sat on a perch. His sisters played below him.
He held Edelmeier's hat in his left hand. He slipped it on his head. It fit perfectly.
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.