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Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, left, and Jonathan Kehl walks across Wellington street in Ottawa on Sept. 27. Mr. Kehl is on a tour of Ottawa and New Brunswick, paid for out of pocket by Mr. LeBlanc.Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

A fear of medical injections had initially made Jonathan Kehl hesitant to donate the stem cells that saved the life of Dominic LeBlanc.

As the federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister looked on this week during a joint interview in his Parliament Hill office, his 23-year-old German donor recalled the hurdle of having to inject hormones into his stomach once a day for eight days to make his body generate the required material.

“I tried, but I couldn’t do it to myself,” he said. “I am a little bit afraid of needles.”

Luckily for Mr. LeBlanc, Mr. Kehl’s parents did the injections, and Mr. Kehl’s stem cells were provided to Mr. LeBlanc in a half a litre of the donor’s blood. Mr. LeBlanc is now cancer-free after suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a blood cancer. He has been back on the job handling various files that this week included the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona.

“Without a stem-cell transplantation, there was no hope for a cure. His disease would have rapidly progressed/relapsed and [killed] him,” Dr. Silvy Lachance of the Transplant Program at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital in Montreal said in an e-mail exchange.

Now, in return, Mr. Kehl is on a whirlwind tour of Ottawa and New Brunswick, paid for out of pocket by Mr. LeBlanc. Since Mr. Kehl arrived in Ottawa last Sunday, his first visit to Canada has included a chat with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“Well, he was really grateful because Dominic and he are childhood friends,” Mr. Kehl said. “I think it was a really personal matter for him.”

The medical crisis played out in 2019 – a year after Mr. Kehl registered in a program and provided a saliva sample so he could, theoretically, donate stem cells. “I just did it like anybody else,” he says.

But the theoretical became urgent when Mr. LeBlanc became sick and, through an international search, Dr. Lachance found that Mr. Kehl’s material was compatible with the ailing minister. The donation was arranged.

“This is the most real thing that I have survived in my life,” Mr. LeBlanc said of the experience.

However, there was a two-year delay under medical protocols in both countries before either man could get any information on the other. Once that disclosure occurred, the two were in touch across thousands of kilometres.

This week, for the first time, they were side by side. At a table in Mr. LeBlanc’s ministerial office, there was Mr. Kehl, now studying to be a teacher. And there was 54-year-old Mr. LeBlanc, the veteran political insider first elected in 2000 who has served in various senior government posts.

Mr. LeBlanc said it was “overwhelming” to see Mr. Kehl for the first time. “Even though we had gotten to know each other a bit in phone calls and Zoom meetings, to be physically with this person who did this remarkable thing that saved my life … I thought it was just a wonderful human moment,” he said.

Mr. Kehl said he was happy to learn more about Mr. LeBlanc’s fate. “To have that in mind that you saved a person’s life is really nice.”

Mr. LeBlanc said he is now living through a second chance in life. “I am trying to appreciate every single day and every week that I am able to be with my friends and family, and to do my job,” he said.

The pair have had dinner with the Speaker of the Senate. Mr. LeBlanc introduced Mr. Kehl to his cabinet colleagues. They will be going to dinner at the residence of Germany’s ambassador. And there’s a trip to Montreal, and then to New Brunswick to go salmon fishing on the Miramichi River. Mr. Kehl departs Saturday.

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