Answering the call to save a life: One stem cell donor’s story

May 6, 2016 | by Letisia Marquez

Jon Kayne - bmt donor Jon Kayne, stem cell donor

Growing up, Jon Kayne knew his Grandpa Eddie was a gem – the type of person that will always remain in people’s hearts.

“He was one of the kindest, most caring, most selfless people I've ever met,” Jon said. “He put everyone before himself and would drop everything to spend time with his kids and grandkids.”

Jon was just 8 years old when his grandfather was diagnosed with brain cancer and 13 when his grandfather ultimately passed away.

“He was one of the largest influences in my life,” said Jon, 25, who now works for a financial technology start-up firm in San Francisco. “If I could have had another six months or a year or 10 years with him, I would have given anything for that.”

Years later, Jon visited Israel as a participant in Birthright Israel. The organization takes young Jewish people on a 10-day trip to Israel to strengthen their Jewish identity and connect to the homeland. As part of that trip, they invite nonprofit organizations to talk about what they do and enlist volunteers.

A bone marrow donor center asked the young people to join its registry. Jon, then 21, didn’t hesitate.

A couple years later, he received a phone call from the center, telling him that a donor needed his bone marrow. The caller asked Jon: "Would you be willing to donate?"

That same week, Jon’s grandmother, who has battled chronic lymphoblastic leukemia for years, had received news that she would need chemotherapy treatment for the first time.

Jon thought perhaps that was a sign – his grandmother was sick, but the doctors were still going to try to help her. Shouldn’t he try to help someone who needed treatment as well? And then there was still the longing he felt for Grandpa Eddie.

“To give someone else that chance I wish I had with my grandfather … that means the world to me,” Jon said. “If someone in my family needed a transplant, I would absolutely hope that someone would make the choice to donate.”

Before donating, Jon learned he would need to take medication for five days to increase his stem cell production. Donating the stem cells would take six hours. He might be sore for a few days, and would need to take a few days off from work.

None of that mattered to him. 

The amount of discomfort I would experience, as well as the time it takes, is so minimal compared to making a donation that will save someone’s life.” 

oday, Jon will meet the patient whose life he helped save during City of Hope’s 40th Bone Marrow Transplantation Reunion. Acclaimed television producer Steven Bochco, who created such hits as “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law,” “NYPD Blue” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” is the grateful recipient of Jon’s stem cells.

At the reunion, Jon will be surrounded by his parents, brother and surviving grandparents, including his grandmother, who is still battling leukemia.

“Even though I’m 3,000 miles away, I’m very close to my family,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to share a really important moment with them. They’re as excited as I am to see this ultimate stage, which is to meet the person whose life I helped save.”

And Grandpa Eddie will be there in spirit, too.

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Learn more about City of Hope's bone marrow and stem cell transplant program. If you are looking for a second opinion or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

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