A 7-year-old Illinois boy was presented with a choice six years after he survived a bone marrow transplant.

Gabriel, of Springfield, was getting the chance to take a trip to Disney World for the first time, or meet the anonymous bone marrow donor who had saved his life.

When a nonprofit organization Make-A-Wish told Gabriel that he could do one of the two above, he chose the latter instead of jumping at the chance to go to Disney World where most children naturally want to go.

Make-A-Wish is an organization that facilitates life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses.

As an infant, Gabriel was diagnosed with aplastic anemia and needed blood and platelet transfusions throughout the first year of his life.

When it was determined he had bone marrow failure and required a transplant, his family and others from the community stood up to see if they matched.

Luckily, the family found a match halfway around the world. His name is Dennis Gutt, a now-25-year-old carpenter from Germany, who was 19 at the time of the transplant.

“They found Dennis through the Be the Match registry and on the day of the transplant they told us he was a 19-year-old from Europe,” Gabriel’s mom, Lauren Smith, told Good Morning America. “That’s all they were allowed to tell us.”

PHOTO: Dennis Gutt, kneeling, attends a Chicago Cubs game with Gabriel Smith and his family.
Dennis Gutt, squatting, attends a Chicago Cubs game with Gabriel Smith and his family. (Facebook/Lauren Engelke Smith)

The little boy was hospitalized in St. Louis and underwent the bone marrow transplant on Oct. 16, 2013, aged 14 months.

Smith said of her son: “If the transplant hadn’t happened, if we hadn’t found a match through the registry, he wouldn’t be alive. He couldn’t keep going through the transfusions.”

In the beginning, Gabriel’s family did not know Gutt’s identity. The Smiths called him simply as “the superhero” until 2015, when they were permitted to learn his name.

Smith found Gutt on Facebook and connected with him.

“I couldn’t believe I found the person who saved Gabriel’s life,” she said. “Back when he got the transplant, we couldn’t believe that the donor was only 19, that somebody who was 19 years old saved our son’s life.”

Gutt, meanwhile, doesn’t think of himself as having done anything special. He signed up for the Be the Match registry, the largest bone marrow registry in the world, when he was 18.

“I saved another person’s life because I donated something which regrows up in my body in a few weeks,” Gutt told “Good Morning America” by email. “Unbelievable.”

PHOTO: Dennis Gutt, 25, holds Gabriel Smith, 7, while being hugged by Gabriel
Dennis Gutt, 25, holds Gabriel Smith, 7, while being hugged by Gabriel’s older brother. (Facebook/Lauren Engelke Smith)

Last year, Make-A-Wish approached the Smith family about granting a wish for Gabriel.

Smith told Good Morning America: “Gabriel wanted to take Dennis to meet Mickey Mouse. When he had to pick one, immediately he said, ‘I want to meet my donor.’”

So Make-A-Wish Illinois arranged for Gutt to fly from Germany to Illinois last week and meet Gabriel and his family.

“When he came out of the [hotel] elevator, we were all staring and Gabriel just got stage fright, he couldn’t move or talk,” Smith recalled. “Dennis came right over and gave him a big handshake and hug and then Gabriel warmed up to him.”

Gabriel is now a happy, healthy second-grader. Gutt spent several days in Springfield with Gabriel and his family, taking in the sights and doing things he’d never normally experience.

“The connection was immediate. Immediately we were like family,” Smith said. “It was the craziest thing I’ve experienced. He’s part of our family now.”

Categories: U.S. Illinois