More than 5,000 bone marrow transplant (BMT) recipients and their donors, family members and friends recently joined City of Hope nurses, physicians and staff at the 30th annual “Celebration of Life” BMT Reunion. Taking place on the Duarte campus on Friday, April 21, the event commemorated three decades of laboratory and clinical achievement for the Division of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation (HCT).
At this year’s event, 10-year-old Taylor Distelrath of Upland, Calif., met her stem cell donor, Deborah King, of Albuquerque, N.M. King is a nurse practitioner who works with developmentally disabled adults. Distelrath was 7 years old when doctors diagnosed her with leukemia.
Distelrath’s parents, Cheryl and Todd Distelrath, also were on hand for the meeting. An emotional Cheryl Distelrath found it difficult to express her feelings of gratitude. “What do you say? ‘Thank you’ isn’t enough,” she told attending news reporters.
BMT recipient Sandra Sholkoff of Woodland Hills, Calif., also met her donor, Roger Winkelman of Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Sholkoff, a counselor in rehabilitation and psychiatric services, embraced Winkelman, a Detroit-based lawyer and business consultant. “Thank you for saving my life,” she said.
The “Celebration of Life” reunion takes place each spring and includes a barbeque lunch, group photo and formal program, as well as a press conference featuring first-time meetings of BMT recipients and their donors.
This year’s reunion also included entertainment provided by singers Donna Baxter, a patient, and Brenda Joseph, whose mother received a BMT. Comedian and BMT recipient Sean Kent, who appeared on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” amused the crowd with his humorous perspective on being a patient.
“The reunion is always a wonderful time for us,” said Stephen J. Forman, M.D., chair of the Division of Hematology & HCT. “It really helps to re-energize us as a staff, and the ‘glow’ from this energy stays with us for a very long time.” Forman congratulated all of the staff of the HCT program and all of City of Hope on reaching the anniversary.
Gail Herndon, administrative director of the Division of Hematology & HCT, organized the event. “Putting this together is really a team effort,” she said. “The patients, donors and staff get together and just enjoy the day, and I really want to thank everyone who pitches in for making it possible.”