A simple act in Rhode Island, a lifesaving transplant in Duarte

January 1, 2014 | by ronichols

Stem cell donations are usually an anonymous gift, with people who want to help others donating their lifesaving cells simply from the rightness and joy of being able to save another human being. The donor and the recipient almost never meet – except in special circumstances. On the morning of Jan. 1, 2014, at the 125th Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., those special circumstances were in place. Former City of Hope patient Ben Teller met the woman who saved him from Hodgkin lymphoma: Nancy Haag.

Teller had previously spoken of his journey through the disease and transplant process, but Haag's experience has not been shared publicly. This is her story.


Nancy Haag was attending a community fair with her family near their Newport, R.I., home in 1995, when she saw a booth for the national bone marrow donor registry.

Nancy Haag Stem cell donor Nancy Haag, right, signed up for a bone marrow registry almost two decades ago. Finally, she got the call – and saved a young man's life. Haag is shown here with her children, from left, Lindsay, Devon, Kelsey, Jill, Tre and Julie, and her husband, Gene.

On an impulse, she signed up.

Unlike today’s method of swabbing the inside cheek of a prospective enrollee, organizers collected a sample of her blood that day. “I remember having that big wad of gauze on me, and thinking, ‘Oh, that’s cool. Who knows, maybe they’ll call me.’”

Seventeen years later, in August 2012, they did.

By that time, Haag was a 47-year-old preschool teacher and mother of six who was living in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

The call came during the “crazy-busy” week before her eldest daughter was getting married.

The Connecticut Be the Match office that had organized the Rhode Island donation drive nearly two decades before was calling to let her know she was a potential match, and to ask if she would undergo more thorough testing to confirm her compatibility. Haag learned only that the patient was a male in his early 20s, and had Hodgkin lymphoma.

“I just started thinking about the fact that my daughter and my son were about that age, and certainly, I would do whatever I needed to do for this young man to have a chance.”

Haag already knew about the ravages of Hodgkin lymphoma. When a dear friend and mother of a little boy in her preschool class was diagnosed with the disease years before, “I went through the journey with her,” Haag said. The friend survived chemotherapy and an autologous transplant, in which her stem cells were purified and infused back into her.

In the frenzied days before the wedding%

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