By Kathleen O'Neil
Julian Yarbrough will be a featured guest at City of Hope’s 31st Annual “Celebration of Life” Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation Reunion this week, but unlike the other highlighted patients at the event, he will not meet his donor.
Yarbrough’s transplantation used stem cells from the blood of two umbilical cords — rather than from an adult donor — and the identity of cord-blood donors must stay permanently confidential.
Still, Yarbrough thanks the children and their families. “I hope all parents would consider donating their children’s umbilical cords, because it really does help,” said Yarbrough, 17, of Oceanside, Calif.
Yarbrough is among the thousands of hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) recipients, family members and friends who will attend the “Celebration of Life,” a reunion held at the Duarte, Calif., campus each spring. It includes a barbecue lunch, group photo and entertainment, as well as a press conference featuring first-time meetings of HCT recipients and their donors.
Two other patients who had more familiar versions of HCT will meet their donors for the first time at the April 27 reunion. Architect John Ruble and 10-year-old Cindy Campos’ donors plan to attend the reunion from Illinois and Canada, respectively.
California Assemblymember Anthony Portantino, who is leading an effort to increase the collection and diversity of umbilical cord blood cells for transplantation, also will attend the press conference.
“The reunion is always an inspiring time for us,” said Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis and Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation and chair of the Division of Hematology & HCT. “Everyone who works at City of Hope has had a hand in saving these lives.”
Forman and pediatric oncologists Ellen Bolotin, M.D. and Peter Falk, M.D., along with their former patients, will speak with members of the media at the press conference. Bolotin performed Yarbrough’s November 2004 transplantation. City of Hope has now conducted nine such transplants in pediatric patients.
In 2004, the procedure was so new Bolotin could not give his parents statistics on how well it might work. The Yarbroughs just knew that years of treatment for his aplastic anemia and actue myloid leukemia were not working, and bone marrow registries had not found a match for the Hawaiian-African-American boy. Fortunately, the cord blood registries had matches, and Yarbrough recovered. He is now a junior at Oceanside High School and applies his piano and guitar talents to create Christian rap.
During the afternoon program, former bone marrow transplant patients Donna Baxter, Audrey Strange and Sean Kent will entertain attendees. Baxter will perform with her band, the Desert Breeze, Strange will sing accompanied by her father, who plays guitar, and Kent will provide stand-up comedy.