Six years after enduring a bone marrow transplant, 7-year-old Gabriel Smith had two options. He could either go to Disney World or meet the man who saved his life.
Gabriel, of Springfield, Illinois, told Make-A-Wish, an association that fulfills life-changing wishes for kids with critical diseases, that he needed to meet his bone marrow donor, Dennis Gutt, a 25-year-old woodworker from Germany.
"Gabriel wanted to take Dennis to meet Mickey Mouse," Gabriel's mother, Lauren Smith, told "Good Morning America." "When he had to pick one, immediately he said, ‘I want to meet my donor.’”
Make-A-Wish Illinois organized for Gabriel's donor to fly from the place where he grew up in Germany, Schuby, to Illinois a week ago to 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 said. “Dennis came right over and gave him a big handshake and hug and then Gabriel warmed up to him.”
The meeting was one Gabriel's parents couldn't have envisioned during Gabriel's hardest days as a baby.
Right after he was born in 2012, Gabriel was given a blood transfusion and had to be transported to a children's hospital in St. Louis immediately, which was a two hour drive away from the families house in Springfield.
Gabriel needed blood and platelet infusions during his first year of life. As the doctors decided that Gabriels need a bone marrow transplant, family and friends tested if they would be a match.Instead of Gabriel's family, the ideal match for Gabriel was Gutt, who was 19 years of age at the time of the transplant in 2013.
"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," Smith said. "That’s all they were allowed to tell us."
From August 2013 to February 2014 Gabriel was in the hospital in St. Louis. The bone marrow transplant took place on Oct. 16, 2013, as he was only 14 months old.
"If the transplant hadn’t happened, if we hadn’t found a match through the registry, he wouldn’t be alive," Smith said of her son. "He couldn’t keep going through the transfusions."
Now, 6 years later, Gabriel is a lively second grader full of energy and 'totally healthy' as his mom says.
During the recovery process, Gabriels family wondered who the 19-year-old stranger was who spared their child's life. The family called him "the superhero" until two years after the transplant, when in 2015 they were permitted to know Gutt's name.
Smith searched for Gutt on social media and started talking with him on Facebook.
"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."
As he was 18, Gutt registered for the Be-the-Match registry, which is the biggest marrow registry on the planet. He had no idea of the situation of the individual he gave to until Smith reached out to him on Facebook.
"I saved another person's life because I donated something which regrows up in my body in a few weeks," Gutt said. "Unbelievable."
Gutt went to visit Gabriel and his family in Springfield where they were eating at their preferred eateries and Gabriel got the chance to show Gutt his hometown. The Smith's an Gutt also visited St. Louis, where Gabriel got his transplant, and Chicago, where they visited a baseball game and had ice cream almost every day.
The stay was Gutt's first time visiting the United States and the first time the Smith's ever had a vacation together.
"The connection was immediate. Immediately we were like family," Smith said of meeting Gutt. "It was the craziest thing I’ve experienced. He’s part of our family now."
For Gabriel the best part of his vacation was meeting Gutt and for the German the Smith's feel like the family he never had.
"It's like an invisible rope connected you to a family from other side of the world," he said. "I felt since the first moment like a part of their family. We bonded immediately and I hope forever too. That's my wish."
Gutt brought a wooden box from Germany that he made himself and loaded it up with pictures of himself as he was a little kid, some german cash and different knick-knacks for Gabriel. Also in the box for Gabriel were some magnetic blocks, that the 7-year-old has played with since Gutt left to go back home to Germany.
The family intends to keep in contact with Gutt through Facebook and phone calls until they can see him again face to face.
"We have plans that if we ever do get to Disney World, he’s coming with us," Smith said. "We want him to go because he deserves everything that we can do for him."
The Smiths said they are appreciative of Make-A-Wish and believe that their story will inspire others to become part of the Be-the-Match registry because the sign up process is as simple as giving a swab of a cheek to gather DNA.
"If we could save one life through this, someone sees this and signs up and is a match, then we’ve done what we wanted to do," Smith said.