Robert Benz made the decision that would save little Kennedy Kraus’ life before she was even born.
A 49-year-old engineer living in Neumarkt, Germany, Benz saw a televised news story in 1995 about a nurse with leukemia and felt compelled to sign up as a potential bone marrow donor. He was not a match for the nurse, but he hoped he might help someone else someday.
|Transplant survivor Kennedy Kraus, left, meets her lifesaving donor, Robert Benz, for the first time. (Photo by Thomas Brown)|
His time came in 2007 when Kraus, of Carlsbad, Calif., was diagnosed with aplastic anemia. Only 8 years old, she desperately needed a bone marrow transplant. Benz was a match for Kraus — and the marrow he then donated was shipped to City of Hope, where it helped form her new, healthy blood cells.
Although they live an ocean apart, Kraus and her family recently got to thank Benz firsthand at the “Celebration of Life” Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation Reunion at City of Hope. They were one of two pairs of donors and recipients who met for the first time at a press conference as part of the May 1 reunion, an emotional annual event now in its 33rd year.
More than 5,000 transplant recipients, family members, friends, nurses, donors and transplant staff attended the event, which included lunch, a group photo and entertainment. Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis and Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation and chair of the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation hosted the event. Speakers included City of Hope’s Michael A. Friedman, M.D., president and chief executive officer, and Alexandra M. Levine, M.D., chief medical officer, as well as comedian and cancer survivor Sean Kent and former outfielder and Los Angeles Dodgers legend Tommy Davis.
“This is the embodiment of the idea that where there is hope, there is life,” Forman told the crowd.
At the press conference, Forman introduced patient Catherine Fuller, 43, a pediatric intensive care nurse from Los Angeles who was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in 2007.
As a nurse, she had cared for countless critically ill children, but suddenly found herself needing intensive medical help herself. Only a hematopoietic cell transplant could provide the answer to fight her cancer. Unfortunately, even though she had nine siblings, none of them proved to have the matching cells she needed — so physicians turned to the national bone marrow registry, called Be the Match, for a donor.
They found her in Patricia Peoples, a 51-year-old from Georgia who had signed up as a potential bone marrow donor in 1986, inspired by a young woman in her church who needed a transplant.
While she was not a match for her fellow parishioner, two decades later, she became a match for Fuller. Now Fuller is doing well, the beneficiary of a match so perfect the women wonder if they might be long-lost cousins.
Peoples and Fuller met for the first time at the reunion, and they both hope their experience will encourage more African-Americans to sign up as potential bone marrow donors.
Said Peoples: “I wish I could do this every year for someone.”
The Benz and Kraus families also give thanks for life and want more people around the world to consider signing up as potential donors.
“To know someone’s life was saved by my donation was the best feeling one can have,” Benz said, “and I am so overjoyed to be chosen for this act.”