Missionary Marrow
February 1994

“Missionary Marrow,” Ensign, Feb. 1994, 29

Missionary Marrow

Analisa’s last chance for bone marrow was her missionary brother, three thousand miles away in Peru.

It was a bleak, stay-inside January day. I was looking forward to the evening, when I would phone my sister-in-law, Analisa O’Rullian, for our usual laughs and exchange of weekly news. My joyful anticipation turned to despair, however, when I called Analisa. My brother Brian answered the phone and tearfully disclosed terrible news. His wife, Analisa, had received the results of a blood test she had taken weeks before as part of a medical exam.

“Leukemia!” My voice cracked with shocked disbelief as Brian told me more about Analisa’s diagnosis. “It can’t be!” I insisted. There was no way Brian’s vivacious, healthy 27-year-old wife—and my dear friend—could have such a dreadful disease!

My husband and I had been living on the U.S. East Coast for three years, separated from our extended families, who lived three thousand miles away in California. So naturally we had been thrilled when Brian and Analisa had transferred to New Jersey, only forty-five minutes from our home in a Philadelphia suburb. Besides having grown up together in southern California, Analisa and I had married our husbands in the Los Angeles Temple on days just seven weeks apart. Ever since then, we had shared vacations, laughter, and tears and had become as sisters.

It soon became clear that Analisa needed a bone marrow transplant. Even though the international pool of bone marrow donors was growing, the chances of finding a compatible donor were minuscule—about one in one hundred thousand at the time (1989). Six elements of a donor’s blood would have to match Analisa’s blood in order for her body to accept the donor’s marrow. Medical science indicated that Analisa’s ideal match would come from one of her three brothers, each with a 25 percent chance for a successful sibling match.

Unfortunately, disheartening news came over the phone lines once again when blood tests of two brothers proved that their marrow was incompatible with hers. Analisa’s best hope for survival lay with her remaining brother, Alfred Marquez, who was serving a mission in Trujillo, Peru.

Faithful to the cause of missionary work that was key to her own conversion to the restored gospel at age thirteen, Analisa did not want to distract Alfred with news of her illness. He was faring well on a mission he’d sacrificed much for. Precious time passed, and still Analisa could not bring herself to contact her brother. But finally, after prayers of faith, she broke the sad news to Alfred. He becalmed her fears of interfering with his mission. He told her that he had been worried about his family and now he knew why. Through the Spirit, the Lord had prepared him to accept the possibility of interrupting his mission to help his sister in a way that no one else could.

With their mission president’s blessing, Elder Marquez and his companion journeyed many hours by bus over rugged roads to a Lima hospital. Time was of the essence if the plan was to work. Distressing obstacles were overcome, and the blood sample was extracted, put in two vials, and whisked across parts of two continents in the coat pocket of a returning missionary. He was met at the airport by Analisa’s parents, who rushed the precious cargo to the UCLA Medical Center for evaluation.

Word spread of Analisa’s desperate need for a perfect match, and soon the whole Peru Trujillo Mission, as well as Analisa’s friends and relatives, were fasting and praying for positive results. In New Jersey, Analisa and Brian anxiously waited three days for word from UCLA. At 11:00 P.M.—the proverbial “eleventh hour” of testing, Analisa recalls—the results were in. It was the Friday before Mother’s Day, 1989.

Sheer ecstasy could not adequately describe everyone’s feelings when word arrived: preliminary blood tests suggested that Alfred’s “missionary marrow” was nothing short of a perfect match! Analisa and Brian moved from New Jersey to California and prepared for the marrow transplant. Further testing would follow, the transplant was yet to occur, and the long, grueling months of recovery were still a frightening prospect. But Analisa, Brian, and their host of loved ones drew strength from the certain knowledge that the Lord would continue to hear their united prayers.

Indeed, the Lord had answered Analisa’s most desperate prayer. She was humbled and profoundly grateful that she had been given new hope for a second chance at life—a chance that her older sister, Stella, who had died of lung cancer a year after joining the Church at age seventeen, did not get. Stella’s strong faith had led Analisa and her brothers to join the Church, too. And Stella’s courage and dignified acceptance of death had inspired Analisa to likewise retain an abiding faith during her own great trial.

“I decided to pursue every avenue of faith and to try to handle life as Stella did,” Analisa recalls. “I didn’t know if I would die or not, but I was hopeful that I would live. I didn’t want to be in desperate need without feeling spiritually prepared.”

For Analisa, the most inspiring aspect of this wonderful news was when Alfred later told her that as his blood sample was being taken in Peru, the Spirit reassured him that the effort was not in vain—not only would his marrow save his sister’s life, but also he would come home to baptize their parents!

Those two great blessings did not come in that order. Analisa’s parents had been prayerfully studying the Church for months before their son returned from Peru. The day after his arrival, Victor and Estela Marquez entered the waters of baptism with their missionary son. Now Elder Marquez turned his attention to helping bring about another great blessing.

The transplant procedure called for Alfred’s marrow to be taken from his hip bones, cleansed, treated, and then intravenously fed to Analisa. The marrow instinctively makes its way to the bones and, over time, begins to grow, restoring the body to health. Simple enough in theory, in reality the procedure was, as Analisa describes it, “total body torture.” Seven days of chemotherapy and total body radiation preceded the transplant, after which her body “went through a war” to accept the new marrow.

There were several times in Analisa’s recovery when she felt that death would certainly be a welcome relief. But “many miracles occurred throughout this whole ordeal, which told me that my Savior was near and he would somehow see me through this illness,” Analisa says. Often that support was in the form of people around her who, like ministering angels, were led to say or do things that lifted her spirits when she most needed it.

Twelve weeks in and out of the hospital fighting for her life did not hinder Analisa’s unquenchable missionary spirit. Doctors and nurses were impressed with her faith in what she referred to as “missionary marrow—direct from Peru!” They learned of her love for her brother, Alfred, reassigned to the Texas Corpus Christi Mission, where he taught Spanish-speaking people the gospel. They also learned of her love for the temple, for Analisa would often point out from her hospital window the majestic spire of the nearby Los Angeles Temple.

There are times when Analisa reflects on her brush with death and sorrows for fellow patients who did not survive transplant operations similar to hers. But she finds peace and understanding in the knowledge that death is but a portal to a new life of glorious realities, without earthly pains and trials and without end.

Analisa will never forget the power of the priesthood, the devotion of her husband, the generosity of her brother, or the great outpouring of love and prayers that have helped her along the way to the full recovery she now enjoys. Special to her also is a deeper, more intimate appreciation of the Savior’s atonement—his own incomparable earthly suffering that strained his limits, yet overcome through faith, opened the way for the glorious renewal of all life.

  • Robin O’Rullian Nelson teaches Primary in the Morrisville Ward, East Brunswick New Jersey Stake.

Illustrated by Paul Mann

A happy day for the Marquez family. Alfred and his brother, Victor, Jr. (second from left), baptized their parents. (Photo by Analisa O’Rullian.)

Of her happy reunion with her missionary brother at the airport, Analisa says, “We were filled with joy; our vision was clear that my life would be saved.” (Photo by Brian J. O’Rullian.)