It was 2006 when Diana Wolfrank first noticed “blueberry” bruises on the hands of her seven-month-old baby boy, Gavin. Normally active and happy, Gavin had become lethargic and inconsolable, which worried Diana.
She and Gavin’s father, Ken, took their young son to a local hospital, where they received heartbreaking news: Gavin had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and needed to begin chemotherapy.
During treatment, Gavin went into remission and was able to stop chemotherapy. But by October of 2009, the disease was back in full force.
Last Hope for Survival
Gavin resumed chemotherapy—this time to make him strong enough for his only chance to beat his cancer: a bone marrow transplant at City of Hope.
Gavin had already spent much of his four short years of life in hospital rooms and chemotherapy sessions. If he was ever to make it past cancer and on to kindergarten, the boy and his parents needed a miracle match: the right man or woman to donate marrow for the transplant.
Fortunately, a donor was found just in time.
A Generous Heart
Halfway around the world in the United Kingdom, Cat Benson received a phone call. A little boy in the U.S. whom she had never met was in need of her bone marrow. Having donated marrow once before, Cat didn’t hesitate. She was eager to help again.
Cat had signed up as a blood donor when she’d turned 18. “It just seemed like the right thing to do,” she said.
Cat’s mother and grandmother were veteran blood donors. They had enrolled in the bone marrow registry in the 1970s—moved by media stories about Anthony Nolan, a British child who needed a transplant. Anthony had died, but that decision ultimately led Cat, decades later, to become the first in her family to donate marrow that saved another patient’s life.
And now, Cat could help the doctors at City of Hope give Gavin a fighting chance, too.
The Wolfrank Family
An Uphill Battle
When he first walked into City of Hope in March 2010, Gavin was finally strong enough to withstand a bone marrow transplant. The family was elated that a donor had been found, but after the operation their joy turned to worry as Gavin battled graft-versus-host disease. Steroids to treat it caused Gavin’s body to balloon. His bones were fragile due to medication and his balance was off. After a fall, Gavin stopped walking and his legs began to wither. “We carried him everywhere,” said Ken.
“Gavin was miserable but never said, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ That helped us get through the next day, the next moment,” remembered Diana.
“He’s always had a wonderful spirit. He’s just … happy. I’ve never seen anybody so sick just deal with it with such grace and such spirit.”
Gavin’s family created distractions, such as transforming his hospital room into a fort and a T-ball field. They brought in his stuffed monkey, “Extravaganza,” and a shower curtain that they had spray-painted with trucks, happy faces, and upbeat messages. Gavin made lists of what he’d do when he was well, like seeing NASCAR and having pizza.
When Gavin was allowed outside, his father carried him and his IV pole around the City of Hope campus. Some days, they played with his remote-control truck or stopped to smell the roses in the Rose Garden.
Finally, the new donor cells began to work. Gavin started working with a physical therapist to be able to walk again. And after 95 days of treatment and care at City of Hope, Gavin was able to return to his Los Angeles home.
“This marrow donation saved all of our lives, and we still thank Cat every night in our prayers,” said Diana.
In May, the family also had the chance to express their gratitude to Cat in person, when Gavin was chosen by City of Hope to meet his donor at the Annual Bone Marrow Transplant Celebration.
“The whole experience was more than we could have ever imagined,” Diana recalls of meeting Cat. “Being able to say ‘thank you’ to the person who saved your child’s life still brings tears to my eyes. Gavin and Cat hit it off so well. We have a friend for life.”
Today, Ken and Diana watch their son run about, happily chasing his sister, Emma. “We always had a sick child who was unable to do many of the things that most kids do. Now Gavin is a normal, happy and healthy 7-year-old boy,” said his mother. He has been off medications for over a year—except the miracle fuel of his new cells.
As Ken says, “Gavin is running on ‘donor.’”
A Bright Future
Gavin, now in first grade at school, is having fun with family and friends. He’s swimming, playing basketball and baseball. He’s learned to throw a ball and dribble a ball, which are big accomplishments that show how far Gavin has come in his recovery. In fact, Gavin is doing so well, he was recently able to enjoy his Make-A-Wish trip to Hawaii, where he and his family celebrated his 7th birthday.
“We are a very blessed family,” Diana said. “We always remember that Gavin is a very lucky boy. Not everyone finds a donor, but we were fortunate enough to find Cat, and for this, we will forever be grateful. Gavin knows that Cat gave him a gift none of us were able to give him.”
Ken reminds his son to honor this gift “by doing something spectacular” with his life. And he believes Gavin will do just that.
Through your generous donations to City of Hope, you have played your own spectacular role in Gavin’s treatment. That is because you make possible the compassionate care, pioneering research and dedication to treating the whole person that saves lives at City of Hope every day. On behalf of Gavin, his family and all the lives you have touched, thank you!