Yadira Diaz was at work in January when she got a long-distance phone call she never expected. On the other end of the line: Jordan Kotick, the man who had saved her child’s life.
|Marvin Ridgely, left, and his donor, Lucas Vine, talk to news media about bone marrow transplantation. (Photo by Thomas Brown)|
Dumbfounded, she struggled to express her profound gratitude for the bone marrow he donated to her then 5-year-old son, freeing him from a potentially deadly disease. “All I could say was ‘Thank you so much,’” said Diaz, of Pomona, Calif.
On April 30, Diaz got to thank him in person for his gift to her son, Jacob. He and Kotick were one of two pairs of donors and recipients who met for the first time at a press conference as part of City of Hope’s 34th Annual Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion.
Thousands of transplant recipients, family members, friends, nurses, donors and caregivers filled the City of Hope campus for an emotional celebration, which included lunch, games, 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.
“We do transplants not just so that people can survive,” Forman told the crowd, “but so that they can live.”
Speakers included Michael A. Friedman, M.D., City of Hope president, chief executive officer and cancer center director, as well as comedian and cancer survivor Sean Kent and former Dodgers center fielder Kenny Landreaux.
At the press conference, 28-year-old Lucas Vine, a former Navy SEAL from Carson City, Nev., embraced Marvin Ridgely, 70, the man whose life he helped save. A former bassist for the O’Jays, Ridgely was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a bone marrow stem cell disorder, in 2007. A bone marrow transplant became his only hope. Six weeks after the search for a donor began, Vine’s name came up in the national marrow donation registry.
In 2008, Ridgely underwent the lifesaving transplant. As Forman noted, transplantation medicine now offers a second chance to certain older patients, like Ridgely, who would have been unable to undergo the procedure a decade ago.
“Sometimes,” Ridgely said, “this still really blows my mind.”
|Yadira Diaz and her son, Jacob, answer questions about their experiences at City of Hope. (Photo by Thomas Brown)|
Vine, who is now studying medicine, hopes the event will encourage others to register as donors.
“It’s an amazing thing,” Vine said. “It’s a simple procedure for what the outcome can be. I’m excited Marvin’s wife still has a husband, and his little girl has a dad.”
And Yadira Diaz still has a son. In the other patient-donor reunion, her son Jacob met face to face with Kotick, 43, a financial strategist and CNBC television host living in New Jersey.
Kotick’s name sat on the national bone marrow registry for seven years before he got word that he was a match for someone in need. Eventually, he would discover that person was Jacob, who was born the same year as his own twins, Lila and Oliver.
Jacob had been diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia after suddenly developing nosebleeds, blood blisters in his mouth and bruises that materialized when he was barely touched. After unsuccessful treatment at a nearby hospital, Jacob was transferred to City of Hope. He underwent his lifesaving bone marrow transplant in 2008 and is now a healthy 7-year-old.
“I predict that in a few years, we’ll remain for him a remote memory,” said Joseph Rosenthal, M.D., director of the Pediatric Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation Program. “And that’s our best reward.”