Nov 9, 2017

Match Made in Marrow

You never know what might happen when you sign up to donate bone marrow. You might save a life… or you might be magically transported across a cultural chasm and find yourself starring in a modern adaptation of the greatest story ever told.

One day, without thinking much of it, Jennell Jenney swabbed her cheek and signed up to be a donor.  Across the country, Jim Munroe desperately needed a miracle, a one-in-eight-million connection that would save him. It proved to be a match made in marrow, a bit of magic in the world that hadn’t been there before.  But when Jennell and Jim had a heart-to-heart in his suburban Dallas backyard, they realized they had contradictory ideas about where that magic came from. Today, an allegory for how to walk through the world in a way that lets you be deeply different, but totally together. 

This piece was reported by Latif Nasser.  It was produced by Annie McEwen, with help from Bethel Habte and Alex Overington.

Special thanks to Dr. Matthew J. Matasar, Dr. John Hill, Stephen Spellman at CIBMTR, St. Cloud State University’s Cru Chapter, and Mandy Naglich.


Join Be The Match's bone marrow registry here.


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JA: Jad Abumrad

RK: Robert Krulwich

SW: Soren Wheeler

AM: Annie McEwen

JM: Jim Munroe

JJ: Jennell Jenney -

LN: Latif Nasser


JA: Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.


RK: I'm Robert Krulwich.


JA: This is Radiolab

SW: So we got an email from you.[laughs]

JJ: Yes, [laughs] You did.

SW: Yeah.

RK: Not long ago our editor Soren Wheeler and I, we got into a conversation with this woman


JJ: I live in Milwaukee Wisconsin.

RK: Her name is Jennell Jenney

JJ: I like the Packers.

SW: Course you do.

JJ: Yeah.

JJ: I guess photographer would technically be my job, but I do a whole lot of different things um none of which really pertain to the story at hand but that's...

SW: And our story really starts when Jennell sends an email to the Radiolab inbox, basically saying I need your help.


JJ: Yeah.


SW: Something had happened to her-



SW: that was -

JJ: kind of a wondrous and unexplainable and very weird.

SW: And as a result, Jennell had found herself stuck in a story.




A story told to hundreds of thousands of people all across the country.

Male voice: What’s happening???

SW: A story that sits right smack dab in the middle of one of the biggest cultural divides in our country right now.


Male voice: - good to see all of your faces.


SW: But it was a story that wasn’t hers. And she wanted us to help her find a way to finally tell her story.


JJ: So to speak.

JJ: I mean do you want me to kind of just start telling you?

SW: Yeah, walk me up.

JJ: Sure, well when I was 18, I went to a concert.




SW: A rock concert.

JJ: Yeah it was - actually it was a Warped tour. So it’s like a festival, of - you have rock concerts.


SW: tons of bands on different stages all over the place. And Jennell is walking around between all the different stages and merchandise tables when she sees this tent.





JJ: A 10 by 10 white tent with just a little table in front.



SW: A table with a sign on it that said -

JJ: Be a bone marrow donor sign up to be on the registry save a life or something like that.



SW: So this was rock music and good deeds brought together.

JJ: Essentially right, which is a pretty good mix in hindsight.

SW: And so Jennell read the sign and she thought herself, “I’ll sign up.”

JJ: Sure.

SW: Why not?

JJ: Yeah.

        RK: Did you knew - did you know what bone marrow was?

JJ: Yeah yeah. I mean…

RK: You knew that that would mean that they take a really long needle

JJ: Yeah

RK: And stick it in you and suck out bone stuff?

JJ: Yeah I suppose at that point that was probably not the forethought. I think that altruistic like -

RK: Oh [XX? ] -

JJ: I’m gonna do something… Yeah. That was probably the main motivation.

SW: And all Jennell had to do standing in front of that tent was sign some papers and swab her cheek, because with a bone marrow donation they actually have to figure out whether you’re a genetic match with someone who would receive the donation.


JJ: Yeah.


SW: Which was part of what Jennell thought was cool about it.


JJ: I always thought that you know it would just be an amazing opportunity to be the one person who could do something for somebody that like literally no one else in the world could.

SW: That’s a deep kind of connection with someone.

JJ: Yeah. Yeah there's you know - I don't know if either of you are only children.

SW: I am.

JJ: But it's yeah. It - You know how they're just like, you have cousins, you've got friends, but at some point there's not that - it sounds so stupid but that biological connection like besides my parents or whatnot.

RK: [unclear] That that you - you missed the idea of someone who was muchly like you and muchly in your world and muchly.



JJ: Yeah. And - and also even the kind of need - like somebody out there dependent on me on kind of that almost otherworldly level.

SW: So Jennell swabbed her cheek, signed the paper and then went about her normal life. And then about six months later, later she got a call.


JJ: Yeah, yeah. It was a phone call to my landline. That’s how long…

RK: Oh my god. So what year are we talking here?

JJ: It was - no it’s 2009.

RK: Okay.

JJ: It was a phone call and I remember very specifically, it was a voicemail, because I hadn’t had a the chance to answer it and they said something to the extent of you know,
“Hi, we’re from the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry. We’ve done some tests and we’ve narrowed you down to be a preliminary match for a patient. So we need you to come in and do some further tests that involve you know, blood and stuff.”

RK: Did you think oh no, I forgot that I did that, or were you thinking oh boy? Or what were you…

JJ: Oh I was so - I - overcome with emotion. I remember just just to think there’s somebody - there’s somebody out there that might be my person. Uh so absolutely no hesitation on my end. I went -


SW: So Jennell heads into the clinic because - well so - bone marrow - the stuff in the kind of core of your bones actually produces all your blood cells. And importantly including um your white blood cells which are  a key part of your immune system. So what you’re doing -




SW: with a bone marrow transplant is taking a healthy immune system out of one person and putting it into another person whose immune system is you know - cancer or or messed up in some kind of way. The key is though because the immune system is that part of you that like recognizes you from not you and attacks anything that’s not you. You have to like fool the new body into thinking that this immune system is them. And so the parts of your DNA that have to do with your immune system. A couple key parts of that have to match with the donor. So that’s what they’re doing with Jennell, they’re taking her in to like test her DNA to see if the stuff that marks out her immune system matches closely enough with this you know recipient so that the bone marrow transplant will work.


JJ: And then maybe a month later I get another call and this one I was able to answer and they say: “Well, we’ve done tests and you are




JJ: the ideal person in this 8 million person registry to donate for this patient.”




JJ: “You are a perfect match.”

RK: Wow.

JJ: “And will you do it?” And I was like “Absolutely.” So…

RK: Did that feel to you -

JJ: I don’t -

RK: like a call of destiny? Like maybe maybe this was meant to be?

JJ: Yeah. There’s something I feel that’s like bigger than myself that’s happening and I don’t really - I mean I can’t really explain it yet at that point but I know there’s like - okay here’s a - there’s a big thing.

RK: Mm.

JJ: So I go in, and unfortunately to disappoint you, Robert. The way that I donated bone marrow wasn’t actually the real -




bad way -


RK: Oh really -

JJ: with the big needle.

RK: I mean I’m not disappointed. … for whoever. Have they come up with a small needle version or?

JJ: Yeah well what they…

RK: Like a straw or something?

JJ: Sort of. What they essentially do - and this is actually the far more common way of doing it now is they inject you with all these drugs -

RK: Mmhm.

JJ: and it- and it is like 8 injections that boost your white blood cell to come up to astronomical heights. And do you know like when you get sick, when your immune system kicks in overdrive and you feel sick? Imagine that like 8 times over. just cause I ..


SW: Like nauseous, achy, -

JJ: Oh all -


SW: shaky...


JJ: So achy. Every bone hurt.


SW: And while Jennell is feeling achy and sick, inside of her, her bone marrow is pumping out a bunch of new baby blood cells.




JJ: Unmatured stem cells that can really become almost anything.


SW: Then they just go in and grab those cells.


JJ: They harvest you I guess. So you have a needle in both arms and you pretty much sit still for 6 hours until they suck all the blood out of your body, put it into a machine and give you back what they don’t need. So I think they’ve got about you know one of those IV bags…


SW: Just a  quart-size plastic bag.


JJ: Full… of… my… stem cells. And once you’re done, they put some bandaids on you and they’re like alright. Let us know if you need anything.




SW: And do you know anything about like what happens to your blood cells. Like who gets it or what happens?


JJ: Yeah, they’re... The whole registry is very very strict about patient confidentiality.

JJ: But they did tell me that it was a 29-year-old man with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and that’s liter- literally that’s all I knew for a whole year.

RK: Did you look that up in the in the, in the...


JJ: Oh of course. I did endless Google searches of 29-year-old man, acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

RK: You were trying to get a real peek, you mean?


JJ: Right. I was like oh maybe he’s worded it that way and… I didn’t find anything of course.


JJ: But once the year is up, if both parties agree, then we can talk. And that’s… That’s kind of really interesting because I definitely was looking forward to that yearmark. But once that hit I kind of got cold feet. I really just wasn’t ready to know exactly who he was And then I was also worried that maybe this guy is like a real piece of crap? Like Maybe he’s a clan member or a criminal or something? So there is a part of that too.


RK: So you were worried that you opened up the Sentinal and it would say uh……. “Formerly ill person robs three banks and hits old ladies.”


JJ: Yes.


SW: “Horrible man saved by Jennell Jenney.”


JJ: Right. It’s so stupid to say, but I thought that. So I did end up eventually sending this email or whatnot, I think around October.

JJ: It took them a couple of weeks to give my info to my patient and vice versa.


JM: So I was eating lunch with a friend of mine and I remember having chips and guacamole.


JJ:  By the way, my - my patient’s name is Jim

So they gave Jim my info


JM: And my phone went off in my pocket and there was an e-mail in my inbox and there was a - a scanned PDF attached to this e-mail and I open it up and she had filled this out with her own hand. And I just broke, it totally - I just I wept like a little baby in a in a booth at a Mexican restaurant in the middle of Grapevine Texas. And I got on Facebook. I saw a picture I saw a picture of her and I was like oh my gosh it's gotta - it’s gotta be her.


JJ: I'd gotten an e-mail or not an e-mail - Facebook friend request from - said this guy named Jim Monroe in Texas and I was like oh ok I don't know anybody in, in Texas. And then it clicked all of a sudden. This - this is him. I could see his picture, I can look and -


RK: Oh what does he look like?


JJ: Not very much like me.




SW: It wasn’t - it wasn’t Jennell with shorter hair.


JJ: No, right yeah. Uh tall -


JM: Six foot four I've got blonder hair


JJ: Blond hair I think fake blonde


JM: I should say it's dyed right now but I've like strawberry blonde hair.


JJ: But tall blond hair blue eyed white guy.


JM: blue eyes.


JJ: um.


JM: I'm very handsome.


JJ: Yeah.


RK: What are you by the way?


JJ: Short blond haired blue eyed person.


RK: Short, blonde hair blue eye -


JJ: So I guess yeah.


RK: Ok, well so you're in the same…


JJ: Yeah.


RK: okay.


JJ: Yeah.


JM: Yeah we could be cousins, I think.


JJ: And yeah so I looked at all of his pictures and his wife who was a model and these kids who were so adorable and I tried  to find as much as I can. and as far as his profession I was like oh he appears to be some sort of magician so I guess we'll talk about that later.



RK: So I don’t even know like… I guess why don’t we just find out like where you’re from and where you were raised. And -


JM: Okay


RK: Let’ do it that way.


JM: So I was born in Orange County, California. Fullerton California. I went to school in Anaheim, high school in Anaheim. I was a baseball player, so I ended up going… I was very very good baseball player. I got drafted by the - at the time they were called the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Now they're just the Tampa Bay Rays.

RK: Oh you were that good?

JM: Yeah I turned down a professional baseball contract to go play at the University of Texas in Austin.

SW: And what did you play?

JM: I was a pitcher. I was a hard throwing right hander.


RK: Huh.


JM: And ended up like I said drafted, and went to the University of Texas to play baseball. And that's what I thought was going to be - I thought were going to be professional baseball player. And then my sophomore year of college I blew out my shoulder. I had a surgery my freshman year and then came back and was throwing harder than ever and then did it again


SW: Ohh.


JM: So baseball was kind of over, um...

RK: Over at like 19? Like that's, oh.

JM: Yes sir, yeah. It was a pretty… It was a big kick in the head.




SW: But Jim finished up school.

JM: They maintained my scholarship as a medical redshirt.

SW: He majored in business and psychology.

JM: Yeah.

SW: Then moved up to Boulder, Colorado, got married, had a couple of kids.


JM: And one of my really good friends during this time, his name was Tennyson. He became one of my best friends. He wasn’t just my best friend he was like my brother. He was an athlete too, so he's a former college football player and he had also lost his football career based upon an injury.


RK: Mm.


JM: And then also knew magic and illusion.


SW: And magic was something that Jim had been fascinated by since he was a little kid.


JM: Yeah. I saw a trade show magician when I was 10 or 11. It was at the Anaheim Convention Center of all places an optometric convention, both my parents are optometrists. And he was just doing trade show stuff at a booth.

SW: Do you remember what he was doing?

JM: He did a version of this trick called Cards Across. He made a cigarette appear. You gotta -

RK: Which he pulled out of your head or out of somebody's...

JM: No, no just - he just casually holding his hand and was holding a zigzag in the tips of his fingers. And he goes to light it and - there was a puff of smoke and -

[Air sound]

JM: There was a - there’s a real cigarette there.



RK: Oh.

SW: And the thought you had at that moment was, "I want to do that"?

JM: It was, "how did he do that?" and "that is cool." And you know I'm I'm going to go learn how that's done. So I just began to look at card tricks and read books on all how all this stuff was done to figure out how it was done.

SW: So when he met Tennyson you know, they start practicing together, and and doing shows in front of friends and family and pretty soon....

JM: Sure enough we start doing gigs.

SW: they started doing these shows at like school and festivals and stuff and they would do these tricks you know, like a lot of kind of card tricks and number tricks where like you’d pick a random number and it would end up, it was written on a piece of paper in the shoe of an audience or something like that. But the the show would turn into something else. Because the thing is, Tennyson was a believer


JM: Overwhelmingly so


JA: Believer, like in God you mean?


SW: Yeah. A Christian.


JM: Tennyson was very convinced.


SW: And after an hour or so of magic tricks


JM: Just pure entertainment.


SW: Tennyson would say to the crowd


JM: This has been great, we’re going to take a quick break. We’re going to give you guys a chance to take off. Because during the second part of this show we’re going to talk about what the Christian perspective is and why we believe this Christian thing. If you want to stick around great, if you don't, take off.


SW: Now during this part of the show Jim says -

JM:And Tennyson in particularly was way more of the evangelistic piece of this.


JM: And I considered myself more of a producer.


SW: Now Jim had actually grown up going to church

JM: Yeah so I was … my parents went to the Lutheran Church. I was at one point doing that. But still there’s, you know… at the end of the day, it was just - there was nothing in it that seemed to be satisfying.


SW: And so at this point in the show Jim would sort of stand back a bit as Tennyson talked about how magic is actually all about the unseen, and behind the veil of reality there’s a god watching over us. And Jim says he would be standing there on stage watching these people in the audience who are feeling this real connection with God.

JM: However, I wasn't having that experience.

SW: He’s just like I don’t know feel what what they’re feeling, and he started to think to himself -  


JM: I didn’t want to be the guy that said well I’m a Christian because my friends were. Or I’m a Christian because I was raised that way. I want it to be true.


SW: And he just wasn’t sure that it was.


JM: Right.


SW: And then after he and Tennyson had been doing this show for a year and a half or so, Jim got a call. Tennyson had been out hiking in the mountains, just outside of Boulder

JM: He was found in the mountains, in a river.

SW: His body was partially submerged, just at the edge of the water. At the base of a 40 ft. cliff

JM: In Peaceful Valley, is what it was called. And he passed away. No one really knows how he passed away


SW: It looked like he may have fallen from the cliff. The police thought maybe suicide.


JM: But it could be exposure to the elements, that kind of thing.


SW: Jim says he was just devastated


JM: Yeah he was probably the closest male friend I’ve ever had

SW: Jim says that he just felt like he was at the bottom of a hole.


JM: Bottom of a hole, kind of figuring it out. Best friend passes away.  My wife and I as a result kind of got into this really strange season where you know I'm depressed, she's depressed. We're pretty much on the verge of calling it quits. And then my leg starts hurting, really badly.

RK: Where in the leg?

JM: Underneath my right knee.


SW: Jim says he started popping Advil uh every day. At first just a couple then more and more.


JM: And I’m trying to gut it out.


SW: Then one day he came home one day and couldn’t even get out of his car and walk to his house so his wife was like look we’re going to the hospital now -


JM: I'm sitting there in an emergency room and this man walks into my room he looks at me and says “You have cancer.”


SW: Jim had Leukemia, which is cancer of the blood cells.


JM: White blood cells inside of your bone marrow have literally exploded out of control and the reason why your leg hurts so bad is because your bone is breaking on its own.


SW: From the inside.


JA: Wow.


JM: And he said if you don't do anything you're going to die in two months.


SW: Just before Christmas of 2008, Jim checked into the hospital. And right away they do 2 things. Um one they put Jim on the bone marrow registry in the hopes that he can find a donor. And 2, just to keep him alive while he waits, they start putting him on round after round of chemo.


JM: You get this wicked concoction of stuff and then being let out.


SW: He loses his hair, his body starts to fall apart.

JM: And all you can do at that point is just... hope. You know.

RK: Like tick tock tick tick.

JM: Tick tock tick tock, yeah.


RK: Hm.


JM: Yeah. That’s when you - I think you know what you believe to be true, uh is - in co - in adversity that’s - that’s when you found out. And so for me it was not - it was not a Christian worldview. If there is an all-loving omnipotent powerful being that makes the universe go round, then why would things like, you know, suicide or murder or rape exist in a in a - in this constructed world of his?

SW: Jim just couldn’t get himself to believe in the existence of a God like that, or really any God.


JM: You know. There wasn’t any … rhyme or reason or purpose. It was just this is… This is my lot. This really sucks.


SW: And then when he was at his lowest point


M: I remember driving back to Houston, Texas for more chemo and my phone rang. And I didn’t recognize the number. I said hello, and this woman on the other line.


JM: She said there’s one person, that we’ve been able to identify on the planet. Out of all the databases, everything, there is one.


JJ: You are the ideal person in this 8 million person registry to donate for this patient.


JM: Think about that.


JJ: You are a perfect match. Will you do it? And I was like - absolutely.


JM: My wife and I were in the car together and it was just tears, you know, it was like, “Wow, that's amazing.”

JJ: So April 20th. And this is important to remember. April 20th was when I donated.


SW: And as they were pulling -




SW: the cells out of Jennell’s body up in Wisconsin.


JJ: You know one of those little IV bags full of my stem cells.


SW: Down in Texas, Jim’s doctors were telling him -

JM: Your bone marrow transplant is scheduled for April 23rd. On April 23rd the nurses they come inside of your room to celebrate your second birth. And then I remember Dr. Giralt telling me are you ready to put your boxing gloves on? But what he was preparing me for was, a death.




JM: Come to find out later on they pulled my wife out of my room. I've never shared this before publicly, but they pull my wife out of my room and they said we're going to give this to him with all this medication. He could potentially receive this and reject this violently and pass away.


SW: Cause remember they are essentially replacing Jim’s immune system with someone else’s, and in this case, Jennell’s. And in a very real way they are replacing that part of Jim that determines who he is with someone who he clearly isn’t and so there’s a real chance that the body will just short-circuit.

Right. So they give this drug the nurses nickname “shake and bake.”

SW: It’s designed to basically wipe out whatever is left of Jim’s immune system, his his white blood cells.  


JM: Put inside of your I.V. and your body just starts convulsing


SW: And then they put Jennell’s cells in.

JM: And they monitored me.


SW: And over the next couple weeks Jennell’s cells enter Jim’s body, they get into his bone marrow, and they start producing new, white blood cells. Basically producing a whole new immune system. And eventually, Jim is cancer-free.

JM: I mean it it's literally like new life, you know? Now, I will say this- some bells kind of began to go off in my head a little bit.


SW: Jim says before he even got the transplant, the doctor had come into his room and told him:

JM: he said you're going to be like a baby inside your mother's womb literally being born again. Because on April 23rd- and once again this is their terminology - there’s someone else that’s gonna be living on the inside of you and this new system of blood is gonna be your life. Why is that interesting? You know - April 23rd - my new birthday’s April 23rd. My old birthday is April 20th. My new birthday is on April 23rd - that’s on the third day.


RK: And on the third day is significant cause of the Biblical echo?


JM: The Biblical echo, yeah. I came back from whatever I was in, because of the only blood on planet earth that could save me of my disease. So -

RK: So does this land on you the way it sounds to me like it lands on you now or did you go through like, like what happ- like -

JM: Those words, yeah those words in particularly bells went off in my head.


SW: Meaning what, like that now you believe in God? Again? Or for the first time? Or -


JM: I mean I - It’s process right you follow and then I think the puzzle pieces are kind of all swirling and coming together. But everything changed on that demarcating day, April 23rd

SW: And all thanks obviously to Jennell. And not long after seeing each other on Facebook, they hopped on a phone call.


JM: So she gets on and I get on. And but it’s all kind of like hey, oh my gosh this is crazy. I cannot believe this is - isn’t this nuts? Yeah this is so crazy and - and then she drops this on me. She said I went and got a tattoo of a jigsaw puzzle piece.On the very spot where they stuck that I.V. in my arm to pull up the new blood, knowing that I was the missing piece in someone else's life and without me that person wouldn't be alive. And I said do you - I was like - I was thinking - do you have a ton of tattoos? And she just said no I have one. You, you know what Christians believe to be true, right?

RK: What?

JM: Is that their savior rolled up and showed them the very spot on his body where blood came out so that they would believe.


RK: So you're just right down this road.

JM: You can't write this stuff.

RK: You're - you’re just - you’re driving like at 100 miles an hour towards - towards a -


JM: No... For me, it was like I was being introduced to a person. There is an experiential understanding of that which was going on behind the scenes of this existence that was answering my prayer.



RK: The prayers is for - the prayers is called  “Are you there?” That’s the prayer.


JM: Mmhm. Yup.

SW: Are you there, God?


JM: Yup.


SW: Basically Jim saw Jennell and her donation to him as almost more than just allegory as like something close a literal proof of the existence of God. LIke a very real,very present sign.


JM:  I told her to uh - I told her that we need to meet. I said I - can I please bring you out to Dallas Texas.


JJ: He said I have to bring you to Texas. Which is my nightmare. I’m just kidding. But absol- I wanted to go right into it.


JM: I remember her tone. She’s like yeahhh. Suree. Super excited. So yes I flew her to Dallas, Texas.


Male voice: Lights camera action, coming now - someone - someone you’ve met -

JM: This girl saved me life.


JM: I actually recorded it.


Male voice: Oh really? That’s awesome.


SW: In the video you see Jim sort of standing at the bottom of this escalator at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport. He’s - you know looking pretty thin and pale and nervous. And then the camera turns and there’s Jennell.




JJ: Hi!


SW: Coming down the escalator.


JJ: Sorry I’m like the last one. Hi!


SW: And they hug.


JJ: Hi, little guy.


SW: And then his kids come up.


JM: This is my daughter [XX?].

JJ: Hi can I [X?] too? Aww. You’re so cute. Yeah.


SW: And eventually his wife.


JJ: So nice to meet you guys too.


RK: Okay so so now you go home.

JJ: Mmhm we go to his house.

RK: To his home.

JJ: Right and he lives uh in a very big house outside of Dallas.


SW: They had dinner with the family, and then you know once everybody else was heading off to bed um - Jim and Jennell started to talk.


JJ: And um - I think if I remember correctly we were just outside by the pool and just talking and figuring out who each other was and you know I was like so you know, magician? What - what what is that? And uh - he started telling me about what kind of magician he really is, and he is a Christian magician.


JM: I’m sure that in her mind she’s thinking oh my gosh, I just saved a Christian magician from Texas’s life. Like - joke’s on me, isn’t that wonderful, you know?

JA: When we come back … Jennell becomes Jim’s greatest magic trick.

RK: don’t go away




JA: Ok, we’re back. I’m Jad Abumrad.

RK: I’m Robert Krulwich. This is Radiolab

JA: And ok, let’s return to a story from Soren Wheeler. So Soren they were sitting in the backyard. They were about to talk, right?  

SW: Yup, sitting in Jim’s backyard by the pool and he’s basically telling her his whole story about his whole loss of faith, and the cancer, and how she saved his life and then he tells her that right after she saved him, he started doing the magic show again, the show that he used to do with Tennyson.

[Jim Munroe Magic Show Tape]

JM: My name is Jim Monroe.

JM: This. is The Maze.


SW: So, we actually got to see Jim’s show and I have to say he’s a pro. It’s an impressive production, he gets big venues...


SW: … usually thousand people or so, there’s crazy lazer light show stuff. And he does these really complicated illusions that are half Penn and Teller, half David Blaine


JJ: Like for example picking a random phone number out of the phone book and it ends up being someone in the audience


SW: And then their phone will end up hidden somewhere


JJ: Something like that, and they’re very good.

SW: so Jim is telling Jennell about all of these tricks but then he says

JJ: the second half of the show is about us.

SW: He explains that the magic show at this point ends, he tells people that they can leave if they want to and he starts to talk openly, confessionally to the audience

        [SHOW TAPE]

SW: in very personal terms about what happened to him

        [ SHOW TAPE]

SW: and at a certain point he shows a video

        [SHOW TAPE]

SW: He’s in the hospital, throwing up into a bucket. And he’s pale, thin, huge circles under his eyes…. And then he explains that right when he was on the edge of death

JJ: that at his lowest point, this thing happened

SW: A miracle happened

        [SHOW TAPE]

JJ:  When his blood was literally poisoning his own body somebody substituted their blood on his behalf so he could be reborn I guess.


JJ: So there's a whole three days thing there which is the story of Easter and the rebirth. It's just he is telling me that our story saved him spiritually as well and he sees this as like definitive proof that there is a God.



JJ: So yes, this is all being thrown at me

SW: So is he saying all of this to you by the pool? Is it all, it all comes tumbling out

JJ: Yeah, yeah.

SW: and how are you feeling inside?

JJ: Stranger and stranger. Going down the wormhole because I am an atheist. In the sense that I don't believe in the tenets of Christianity. I don't believe really in the tenants of any established religion I've ever seen. Honestly I just think that once things are labeled and you're pigeonholed and the exclusivity of really any religion is, is the cause for a lot of problems throughout history. But faith can be beautiful and there's definitely parts of me and there's moments in my life that, boy, praying and really feeling like that was going to somebody would feel great but I just can't. I just can't do it. So at that moment, yeah he’s telling me this and Yeah and he's like well you know you're here in Texas for this weekend I believe and would you be willing to come on stage for one of my shows? So I can introduce you and of course I said yes.

SW: Really, of course? Of course, you said yes?

JJ: Yeah, of course. Because, I think I’ve always kind of looked at our story as something bigger than what he believes, than what I dont believe. It’s bigger, It’s capital B,  underlined BOLD, it’s Big.

SW: Partly because Jim, at every show he has the Bone Marrow registry people right there ready to sign folks up.

JJ: … because of the show they just saw he can get hundreds, I know that  dozens of people have gone on to be matches and I know a dozen or so have gone on to donate. So this was truly the culmination of, from the moment I signed up this felt like the zenith of this entire thing


SW: So the very next night


        JJ: At Texas Christian Universitd.  Packed house

SW: Jennell’s in the audience...

JJ: I was in like the front row.

SW: And, during the second part of the show, when Jim goes through the rebirth part he stops and he says, guess what everyone, that person who saved my life? She’s here.


JJ: He has me walk up on stage. The crowd went wild. First time in my life I got a standing ovation.

SW: Because you're Jesus! That’s why the crowd goes crazy ‘cause-

JJ:  Yeah…  all of these kids in the audience, who are definitely my age as well, at that point, are seeing my being on stage as the... Quite possibly the biggest proof they’ve ever had that there is… A god.

RK: Will you… Will you know… Was there any part of you that said I shouldn’t be here or you all there?

JJ: There was a part of me that felt… a little bit of an impostor.

SW: But, for Jennell, she said that feeling was outweighed just by the number of people

That were lining up at the bone marrow donation table and so the next time she had a chance, she did it again.


And again


And again

SW: She’s now appeared at the end of the show dozens of times, all around the country, playing the role of Jim’s personal savior. And she said the more times she did it, the more that fraud feeling kept popping up, each time a little bit louder.

JJ: Yeah there is parts of me, there is little fibers of my being that are like wow, if this is a sign, if there is a god, I’m a real jerk. This is such a beautiful, and really literal story being told to me that about like hey, maybe there is a god.


SW: She said that if she’s both perpetuating that story and…  

JJ: … refusing it, there is a special place in hell for me.

SW: And this is why Jennell got in touch with us, because she wanted us to help her figure out a way to help her tell the story that let her way of seeing the world into the room





LN: Okay, are you guys… Is everyone there?


JJ: I’m here.


LN: Jim, can you hear us?


JM: Yeah I can hear you guys. Jennell can you hear me?


JJ: I can.


JM: How are you?


SW: So our producer Latif Nasser actually started talking to Jennell about what exactly she wanted to do and then they decided that we should just all get in the studio -- Jim and her and all of us -- and see if we could hash it out.

RK: Okay.


LN: But I… I guess like Jennell, do you want to just kind of talk through what… What you’ve we’ve been thinking?


JJ: Um sure, I can try and if you want to help me, Latif.


LN: Sure


JJ: So, essentially Latif and I have been talking about what would be the best way for me to kind of tell my side of the story.


JM: Yeah


JJ: My side of our story so to speak, without so much of the religious stuff.


JM: Yeah so when are you guys gonna do that? Maybe I missed a point, I’m sorry. So do you say “we,” as in like we are going to do a version of that?


JJ: Well, I thought you could help me.


JM: Oh cool, well, I have no problem…


JJ: Yeah kind of just


JM: Yeah


JJ: ‘Cause you are so not only a magician with magic things, but also with words. So maybe if we could… If you could help me?


JM: So yeah totally. That’s so interesting. My mind begins to spin. You know, as you guys know in this world there’s…


SW: So at first we suggested that maybe Jennell could come out at the end of one of Jim’s shows and just read a statement or something, and Jim said,


JM: I, you know…


SW: That’s probably not gonna work.


JM: As you guys know, in this world...I mean audiences come based upon how things are marketed and booked and…


SW: And Jim said he has to worry about, sort of as a business, the expectations of his sponsors and even the audience who are looking for a certain thing…


JM: I’m just thinking like a producer cause I’m totally open…


SW: So we were like, “Yeah, ok, fair enough. Maybe there could a Q&A after the show or something like that?


JM: I don’t know I have to really process it. But I’m totally open to it. I would always love to help Jennell figure… I mean help her put it all together and like.. I think, though, that...


SW: So eventually we landed on a plan. Jim was going to be doing his show up in St. Cloud, Minnesota. And we decided we could just do a show with him and Jennell the next night. So, along with producers Latif Nasser and Annie McEwen, we headed up to St. Cloud, met up with Jennell and that night we went to all go see Jim’s show. It’s a pretty big venue. There was probably like a thousand people, all college students. And, of course, because Jennell was there right after he did the personal journey back to God.


JM: Check this out. I looked at [unintelligible] and she’s here tonight.

SW: A little bit hard to hear but there was literally a shudder of energy that went through the crowd at that moment.


JM: Ladies and gentlemen, I want to welcome to the stage...This is Jennel Jenny. Come on up here.


JM: So yeah, [unintelligible]


JJ: Um, well, you’re the much better speaker than me but what I can say is that I encourage all of you to consider signing up…


SW: And so Jennell just pointed out that the National Bone Marrow Registry would be there that night and encouraged everybody to, you know, sign up and have a chance to save a life and do something good.


JJ: So please do that or, at least, consider it.


JM: Show them the tattoo.


JJ: I have a tattoo -- only one still!


JM: There it is right there.


SW: Once Jennell had stepped back off the stage...


JM: Before we close I wanted to know if I could pray for you? Do you guys still pray in Minnesota? … … … I need to pray. Alright, so would you mind? I told you you could leave. I want you to pray this prayer with me, just say this in your hearts. Say Lord Jesus, tonight I choose to turn and start living for myself my own version and my own story and I want to trust you. I don’t have all the answers, but I know you do. And tonight by faith I choose to follow you. Thank you for loving me. Thank you, in the midst of all of this randomness that I experience coming after me, for being jealous for me … …. . I love you too. And Jesus, by your name, amen and amen.




SW: And then, just before everybody stepped out...


JM: Also, this is very important. I’m going to be here another night … … We’re gonna be here tomorrow. Have you guys heard of a podcast Radiolab? … Hear about Radiolab, the podcast, anybody?


SW: That was about three people that shouted out.


JM: They’re in the audience. I’m just going to say that. I’m not gonna point them out but they’re in the audience ….


SW: Nobody cared.


JM: Radiolab is going to be holding this forum.  Jennell Jenney’s gonna tell her side of the story of what happened to her through this process. Alright? Alright.


SW: So after the show, we actually got a chance to talk to a few people from the audience…


WOMAN: And then hearing the whole 3 days thing… I was like oh my god, that’s wow. Oh my god.

MAN: Yeah i couldn’t believe that she was actually here.

WOMAN: She’s here in the room

MAN: Think about it. I would have been so shocked to sit right next to her.


SW: Pretty much everybody was totally floored by getting to see Jennell in person and they all seemed to take her story the way Jim does…


MAN: It was a visual example of everything that’s happening.

WOMAN: Put a face to… To this whole thing.

MAN: Yeah so many things fell in line that  where you just have to believe in my opinion.

LN: Yeah, yeah, yeah (encouragingly)...


SW: So…




SW: The next night…


MAN: Good evening everyone. Welcome. My name is Mark Springer…


SW: With a much less fanfare in a much smaller room. Like maybe a 100 people there or so with the help of the Religious Studies program at St. Cloud University...

RK: Hear me ok? Yes, there I am. Oh my gosh...


SW: We did Jennell’s thing.


RK: Alright, so I’m Robert Krulwich. I am one of the co-hosts of the public radio program called Radiolab. I want to introduce also Soren Wheeler, who is our managing editor -- that’s him -- who’s going to… he’s going to be adding his two cents from time to time. We’re a very democratic show and like nobody controls everything and everybody pitches in, so… So he will too. And I want to begin by just telling you a story.


SW: So we brought Jennell up on stage…


RK: So Jennell could you just come up here and sit I guess… Might as well sit here.


SW: We told her whole story of, you know, donating and then waiting a year to find out you know, who Jim really was.


JJ: … he was in a wheelchair and couldn’t talk. I had no idea that-


RK :-and these are your blood cells…


SW: Then we brought Jim on stage.


RK: Alright so Jim, the year is up…


SW: He talked about you know, his whole process of recovery…


JM: First year you’re just trying to get your bearings…


SW: He talked about how grateful and thankful he was. And then we turned back to Jennell.


RK: Well let’s make this a little more complicated. Soren, could you just run the… I asked you like how you felt in that first round and this is what you told me in the interview.


JJ: There was a part of me that felt a little bit of an impostor.


RK: Then why would you use the word “impostor?” Why did you choose that word?


JJ: Is this how we should start getting into the meat and potatoes of my thoughts?


RK: I think so.


JJ: Ok.


RK: Yeah.


JJ: Part of me… And at that time especially thought that I’m up here again as this pretty hard and fast proof for a very compelling narrative for a lot of people and their faith that I don’t particularly share at all.


JM: Can I ask a question?


RK: Yeah.


JM: But I… I… Knowing that…


JJ: You knew it at that point because…


JM: Yeah yeah yeah


JJ: I think we talked about that…


JM: But I was… I was very concerned knowing that you, you know, didn’t agree with what I believed to be true that that you would feel like you were in that spot cause that’s why I asked you.


JJ: Of course, and I could have declined


JM: Yeah


JJ: I mean…


JM: But at the same time it doesn’t make anything different in the fact that it’s still what it is, you know.


JJ: Exactly. I would have done it, regardless of what it was, if the whole theme of your show was how great the Dallas Cowboys were and it got everyone to join the bone marrow registry, I would have gone up there with a Cowboys hat. Honestly, Jim, every time i see your show even though I don’t, you know, adhere to the religious tenets of it, I still get that feeling and everybody all my family, all my friend, whatever they’re religious. Even my Muslim friends that I’ve told the story get you know that feeling -- and, you know, what that feeling is, is a little intangible, but I think it’s something even a little bigger than… That sounds so crappy to say. Bigger than Jesus. That’s really blasphemous, but I can’t think of a better way to say it.


RK: What did you… What did you mean… Can you explain what that means?


JJ: Well, you know, that there is good in this universe and there is good in everybody and it is regardless of... The goodness is at the top of the list of you and everything else as follows - your religion and your race and where you’re born and your favorite pizza toppings and all of that. But at the very top is good. With the capital G and underlined too.


RK: Alright, Jim, in your show you have a rather gorgeous take on moral relativism. You have a string of thoughts that this idea of being good and doing no harm and living as ethically as you know how is satisfying to some people, but in your view it isn’t really enough.


JM: Yeah this is where we… I mean obviously there is some disagreement here. I think that there is good and I think that there is evil in this world. And I think that people in and out of their own… Left their own vices, left their own devices, I think that they struggle with being good. I think that even on our best day I think that we fall short.


RK: And so in hearing her account you’re just thinking what that she’s not… Where does she fall… Where does this idea lose you?


JM: It doesn’t lose me. I think it’s at both end. It’s phenomenally good. And I’m not not acknowledging is good, I just think that for the Christian it’s not about being good or bad.


RK: What is it about?


JM: I think it’s about… I think it’s about having a relationship with God. Does that make sense?


RK: I guess it makes… Some of this…


SW: At that point, Jim he made it clear that he definitely wasn’t condemning Jennelle because she didn’t have a relationship with God but then we took a different approach we started talking about the unlikeliness of this whole story which is one of the things Jim talks about in his show and so at that I decided I should jump in...


SW: So, at this point actually, I decided to jump in...


And I say this and I really say this only because it is our job as a show that when we hear a story like this we dig in, wwe investigate and we do that from a frame that is really focused on math, facts, science - that whole world, a much more mechanistic worldview. And a couple things happened to you. If you happened to be in my position, you were on a cross stuff like this, and I’ll just read from the Be A Match website: “A patient’s likelihood of finding a matching donor on Be The Match registry is estimated to be in the range between 66 and 97 percent.” The chances that you’ll find a 10 to 10 match in the way that Jim and Jennell were 10 matches is around 50 percent.


RK: Wait a second. Wait a second. Which… That doesn’t make sense to me. There were 8 million people. She was the one.


SW: Yeah let me say that this does not actually contradict with Jim and Jennell’s experience of it. For that to happen to Jim, is truly staggering. It is truly… It could be one in a trillion, the way that winning a lottery is one in a trillion.


RK: Yeah but how could… It can’t be both. One in…


SW: It can because what happens is if you back up away from the individual and ask not… What are the chances this could happen to Jim, but what are the chances this would happen to someone, somewhere \It’s like there is a story that you’re golfing and you hit a golf ball and it goes however hundreds of yards - i don’t play golf so i don’t know how far they go, but it lands on the blade of grass. And that blade of grass says why me? Why would this golf ball crush me like this? Which is a valid point. I would feel that too, but that ball was going to land on some blade of grass. It doesn’t… Like the why me is still a true thing. It is a true experience in a way.


RK: Although there is still this difference I think. The ball can’t point to anything greater in the…


SW: No, the argument lurks behind this is that these things happen and it is just chance.


RK: So this is the random view, how do you guys feel about that that you were randomly there and you were randomly chosen isn’t the word… the ball of mercy landed on you.


JM: I’m not coming at it from just that angle I wonder if it was just the bone marrow transplant that people would get that all the time, the other bits and piece of the puzzle help shadow it in for me. To me its multilayered cake.

RK: I thought you really don’t like this idea of, like in this science version there is no design and there is no first cause except the first random event that sets this thing in motion. Do you both… Could either of you live with that version of what just happened to you?


JJ: Yeah well that’s perfect because that’s exactly what you talk about in your show with the… All the different cards


SW: Jennell’s referring to a thing in Jim’s show where he’s talking about how unlikely any particular order of cards in a deck is


JJ:  the idea of a particular set of cards being dealt in a particular way is 52 factorial…


JM: Which is pretty much impossible.


JJ: It is impossible. I mean it’s an impossible…


JM: Statistically.


JJ: Statistically, right, right. But yet you deal the cards and they happen right there. So this really gets into the different viewpoint on the proverbial deck of cards and who’s dealing them. Is it in a particular fashion? And I think, that’s you know, what Jim believes that there is a proverbial dealer. And I don’t, I guess.


RK: Mmm-hmm. And you agree? That’s pretty much the difference?


JM: Yeah I mean… having given thought to that … I believe that there is some sort of you know, mind personality….


RK: The I believe part is where you… is where you stand. It’s faith.


JM: Yeah absolutely, absolutely. It is, it’s faith.


RK: And Jennell,you’re his savior, I guess. You saved his life. But in some way you don’t… You haven’t… Do you worry about this at all?


JJ: Yeah, absolutely. And even right now, on this stage, there is a part of me that…In front of all of you that i’m sure a lot of you were at this show last night. There is a part of me that is afraid of disappointing that I don’t share what you believe to be true. I mean your entire experience pretty much points the arrow that like I’m like an alliteration of Jesus in your story, and that’s really difficult to reconcile as someone who doesn’t have faith. And it makes me sad sometimes, because I think it would be a lot easier if I just believed exactly what you believe. And i think that I always… Am very afraid of letting that be known. Like I’m super like clammy right now just sitting in front of this many people. I just feel like people would see your story and it’s so tremendously compelling it’s unbelievable. And then see that that last piece of this little puzzle literally doesn’t fit at all.


JM: I mean it’s not like i haven’t thought about that either and how you might feel. And I empathize and I don’t know how to answer that. You know, i just want to give you a hug.


JJ: Yeah


JM: There is unconditionality to how I feel about you that I just... You can do no wrong in my eyes.


RK: Here is for you the hardest thing. I was just trying to think about how difficult this must be. You have been… Your life has been saved by her. She is, in effect, your savior. And yet your belief is that unless she accepts Jesus, that in some sense she is outside of grace and you know, I don’t know what you believe about hell and heaven, but that she might be punished. So what do you do about this weird combination. She’s insisting nope, not for me and you’re insisting oh no, this is the way it is and oh my gosh… Is it hard for you?


JM: No, not at all.


RK: Okay


JM: And I’ll tell you why because it’s not my place to do that. I am very sorry to everyone who listens to this who ever feels like they got judged by a Christian because it’s never their place to do that. And this is where I think most of the times and everybody listening to this podcast is placed as kind of positioned or pigeonholed Christians and what they don’t understand is that I’m not commanded to do anything but to love and to start conversations, right? I’m not the one. I’m not the one who was sent into the world to judge, alright? But what I… so… putting it like that - i know where you want to go with this…


RK: No, this is I’m asking 00:19:40 an honest question. You have to love the judge that may not love the woman who saved your life. That’s hard, I think.


JM: Yeah but at the same time it’s… That’s not what I’m.. that’s not my place.


SW: I have to say I think that we were sort of expecting that maybe sharper edge to the differences between JIm and Jennell. But the truth is, in the room that night Jim and Jennells conversation and thus their story start to feel like some kind of allegory, not for any particular religion, or moral code, but for a way of how to move through the world and hold your differences but still be one.


RK: Let me just finish this way. Do you have a sense between the two of you? Because obviously you stay very very good friends. I mean that’s obvious. Is there some...  Something that either of you can say that explains why you can dignifyingly but emphatically disagree and still stay in such extraordinarily close touch?


JJ: I think the idea of humility and, as Jim might even say grace, is absolutely essential, no matter your tenets of belief. And that’s really what’s going to get you through conflict so yeah…


RK: And is it because you’re in this big ocean of the world and the two of you are just little little dots in there and so whatever you think it’s still you’re in a big ocean and there you are together? Is that the…


JJ: I think maybe yeah.


JM: Yeah. And…


RK: Do you have her bigness thing? Do you feel small?


JM: Do I feel small?


RK: Yeah


JM: I feel tiny. Humility at its root word it comes… The root is humos. Which means dirt. So when you become humble you become dirt.


RK: That’s better than the sea analogy, I think…


JM: I could keep going. You know, what god does with dirt is he creates things, but I won’t go there. But we become dirt, and I think where we get hung up is that we want to be right. And that hasn’t been brought into this yet. And right and wrong are… The words right and wrong I think in relationship are deadly words. I think saying I’m right, you’re wrong is not good for relationships. I think it’s…


RK: And have you ever said you’re right or you’re wrong to her?


JM: No.


JJ: I haven’t said it to him either, I don’t think.


JM: Never


RK: Well that’s a nice place to land.


JM: I think so.


RK: I think we’re done. I don’t think we’re done, done. I’m gonna let these people introduce the...


SW: At the end of the show we had the bone marrow registry people there and quite a few people stopped around and signed up. Maybe like 20 or something like that. 00:23:40 But you know, we’re being honest that was nothing compared to what Jim got at the end of his show.


AM: Wait, say that again?

JJ: Just like 150 people signing up right now.

AM: Did you count them?


SW: That’s our producer, Annie McEwen


JJ: I’ve been trying to. It’s at least that.

AM: Is this bigger than normal, or is it always like this?

JJ: This is a little bigger than normal. I think everytime that I’m actually in the show it’s a little bit better. So I’ve been told.

AM: And what is it… How are you feeling when you watch this?

JJ: It’s really overwhelming. Like yeah, it’s really overwhelming. Kind of makes me want to cry.

AM: Yeah. I mean without you this wouldn’t happen.

JJ: It’s almost too big to think of.