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Western New York woman beats cancer thanks to a donor in Puerto Rico

Two weeks ago, 51-year-old Yazmin Vazquez went to Puerto Rico and met the 28-year-old who gave her a second chance at life.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Yazmin Vazquez, 51, was diagnosed with acute leukemia in August of 2020. Two years later, she's meeting the donor who gave her another chance at life.

A mother to three sons and a grandmother to four grandchildren, Vazquez still has a lot to live for, and because 28-year-old Karla Beltran of Puerto Rico donated her stem cells, Vazquez will have the most important thing.


"That means a lot. I thought I was going to die. It means a lot to me and to my family," Vazquez said. 

Beltran has now gained a second mother. 

"Yes, yes, (she is part of the family now). I asked her mother if I could adopt her. She's young, she could be my daughter," Vazquez said. 

The two met in Puerto Rico earlier this month, all because Lora Yoerg was tasked with finding Yazmin a donor from the start. 

Yoerg, a transplant nursing coordinator at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, tested seven of Vazquez's family members but none made the cut. 

When she looked on the international Be the Match registry, Beltran matched at 100 percent. 

It's almost hard to believe something so perfect is actually rare. 

"Especially with Hispanic patients, there's only a 45 percent chance to find a fully matched donor in the registry. Now why is that? Unfortunately, there's just not enough donors in the registry," Yoerg said. 

She says Leukemia patients need stem cell transplants the most, adding it's a lot like giving a blood donation. 

Just one person who gets on the registry could end up saving another Vazquez. 

"If someone hears me, just go for it," Vazquez said. "That is life."

If you would like to become a stem cell donor, you can register on bethematch.org. It's free for anyone 18 to 35 years old.

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