When 5-year-old Ella Siders was at Cody and Sydney Fuller’s wedding reception, she made light conversation with Cody’s family members.
“Do you know Cody?” she asked. They said yes, described their connection to him, then asked how Ella knew him. “Oh, he saved my life,” she replied.
“And then she went back to eating her mashed potatoes,” said her mom, Christina. “She understands what an amazing thing this is, but not in a heavy way.” The amazing thing occurred in 2020, when a then 1-year-old Ella received brand new stem cells from then 20-year-old donor match, Cody — saving her life.
Ella had a very aggressive form of acute myeloid leukemia, and neither of her siblings were a marrow match. Even after the transplant, she had only a 10% chance of making it past the one-year mark. But thanks to Cody’s whim decision in college to donate marrow, Ella was able to participate in his wedding as one of their flower girls three years after her transplant.
“Just watching her and her sister Lily walk down the aisle, I cry every time I talk about it,” said Christina. “I can’t even put into words what it means: how healthy and thriving and beautiful she looked. It was probably the most special moment of my life.”
When it came time to pick flower girls, the Fullers said they had no doubt who they’d choose. Cody and the Siders first developed a relationship when Cody reached out via email soon after Ella’s transplant. Deutsche Knochenmarkspenderdatei or DKMS, the international nonprofit bone marrow donor center Cody was registered with, eventually released more information and they were able to set up a video call.
“I was super nervous,” said Christina. “It was being recorded [for DKMS], and I figured that Ella would burrow in. After the initial call, we called them back and FaceTimed. Ella put it right up to her face and walked around the house like they were old friends. It is undeniable that there is a connection… that they have this continuous relationship. They are kindred spirits.”
Since then, the Fuller and Siders families have visited one another on several occasions. The Fullers are from West Virgina, and the Siders live in Illinois, so the first time they met in person was during a spring break vacation pit stop in 2022. During that trip, Ella took to calling Cody her “special friend Cody,” and all of them, even Ella’s older brother and sister, developed a connection with his family.
“Cody’s mom and dad are really kind and down to earth,” said Christina. “They had their entire community and church in West Virginia praying for Ella. And they send the kids gifts; they spoil all three of the kids.”
Cody considers the Siders as family, making them an integral part of his and Sydney’s wedding planning.
Ella and her sister, Lily, practiced their big job at home. At rehearsal, they helped coach each other, working through the nerves. According to Christina, Ella loved the wedding and had a great time. The reception was a blast, and everyone danced together.
“I hope Ella remembers the wedding forever,” said Cody. “It was a day full of smiles and celebration with the people I love most. She stole the show, as almost everyone in attendance knew our story. I hope Ella and her family will take away how much she means to my family by being a part of our special day.”
This fall, Ella started her second year of preschool. “Oh my gosh, she adores it,” Christina said.
“She’s the big kid on campus this year. She’s exactly where she needs to be.”
In her free time, she and her sister Lily play pretend like nobody’s business. In fact, Christina has overheard them pretending to prepare for a big party with the Fullers - something they hope can happen again soon, when Ella's preschool schedule and Cody's busy medical school schedule allow.
From the transplant experience, Cody said he gained a new relationship that is beyond special.
“I learned to put life in perspective and made memories with Ella and her family that will last forever. I hope other people will see this story and sign up to be a stem cell or bone marrow donor,” he said.
Though Ella has been in remission for the last few years, she still has a high risk of relapse. Together with other families facing rare leukemia, they’re advocating for new treatments to prevent relapse and reduce side effects. Donors like you can help kids like Ella survive and thrive.