She speaks English, and he speaks Chinese. But Christine Pechera needed no interpreter to give thanks to Kam Tsuen “Kent” Wong. Her broad, beaming smile spoke volumes.
|Christine Pechera, left, meets her hematopoietic cell donor, Kam Tsuen "Kent" Wong for the first time.|
As media captured the moment, Pechera, a hematopoietic cell transplant recipient and cancer survivor, met Wong — her marrow donor — on April 25 at the "Celebration of Life” Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation Reunion.
Wearing a red badge she designed that read “hero” in Chinese, she gave the shy man from Hong Kong an enthusiastic hug.
“I can’t get over thinking that it’s his blood flowing through my veins,” said Pechera, a Los Angeles resident. “It’s his marrow in my bones. This is the guy that saved my life.”
Pechera and Wong were one of two pairs of donors and recipients who met at a press conference at City of Hope as part of the reunion, an annual event now in its 32nd year. Thousands of transplant recipients, family members and friends attended the event, which included lunch, a group photo and entertainment, as well as a visit from representatives of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The press conference also featured the first time meeting between two men who live considerably closer to each other. Darrell Weinberg, an Amgen finance manager from West Hills, Calif., donated hematopoietic cells to save the life of Julian Gold, M.D., a Beverly Hills anesthesiologist.
These first-time meetings between patients and their donors “are in some ways very private, but we’re grateful they share this with us,” said event emcee Stephen J. Forman, M.D., Gold’s physician, the Francis and Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation and chair of the Division of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation.
In honor of ThinkCure, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ official charity supporting cancer
research at City of Hope and Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt attended the event, along with guest speaker Tommy Lasorda, the Dodgers’ former manager, who tempered mirth with motivation.
Lasorda began managing the Dodgers in 1976, the same year that City of Hope’s bone marrow transplant program began. Since then, City of Hope has performed more than 8,600 transplants, Forman said, and the combined years of life saved through the bone marrow program has risen to 21,079.
Forman lauded nurses, physicians and patients, and asked the audience to silently remember patients who were gone yet continue to inspire family, friends and caregivers. “In the act of remembering, lost souls are recovered and they live within us and they are again smiling, healthy and hopeful,” said Forman.
The day culminated with a group photo featuring Lasorda surrounded by patients sporting Dodgers caps.
“When this is over today, you will go on with your lives,” Forman said, “and we will go back into the lab and to the hospital to help those who are here now and long to be with us next year.”