'I wouldn't be here today': Bone marrow recipient reflects on the gift of life
July 3, 2017 | by Letisia Marquez
Lester Wakefield has told police officer Jonathan Bottom, the young man who donated bone marrow stem cells to the 69-year-old Wakefield, that he is thankful for his lifesaving donation. In fact, he's told him many times.
And yet he still feels like he hasn’t thanked Bottom enough.
If it hadn’t been for what Jon did, I wouldn’t be here today,” Wakefield said. “That’s been the most difficult thing for me. How do you say, ‘Thank you for saving my life?’”
In December 2014, Wakefield was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He received chemotherapy at another local hospital before coming to City of Hope in the summer of 2015 to receive a bone marrow stem cell transplant.
Be The Match, the world’s largest bone marrow donor registry, found Bottom, who was a perfect match for Wakefield. Bottom didn’t hesitate to donate.
Helping people is in his blood.
In his youth, Bottom’s parents raised guide dogs for the blind in Modesto, California. In high school, Bottom became an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts. He donates blood regularly. The University of California, Berkeley graduate became a police officer because he wanted to help people. He currently works for a Bay Area police department.
“Donating is just such a great opportunity to really help someone,” he said. “It’s kind of a no-brainer.”
On Sept.r 8, 2015, Wakefield received Bottom’s bone marrow.
“Lester is a brave man,” said Monzr Al Malki, M.D., an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation. “He was determined to win his battle, and he also had excellent support from his spouse and friends, which was essential in such an outcome.”
Wakefield would have thanked his donor that same day if he could but donors and patients must wait a year before they can contact each other.
“I remember submitting the paperwork to meet Jon a month before the year was up,” Wakefield said. “I just wanted to be ready.”
The two chatted over the phone a few times before Bottom took a trip to Southern California to meet Wakefield.
Bottom felt how grateful Wakefield was at that initial meeting. But it wasn’t until January 2017 that he really grasped the enormity of what he did.
Wakefield asked Bottom to attend his wedding to Carlos, 80, who is Wakefield’s partner of 35 years.
The day of the wedding, Wakefield asked Bottom if he and his wife, Sara, could participate in the ceremony as the “best couple,” and they did.
“We met a lot of Lester and Carlos’ friends and they all started crying when they met me,” Bottom said. “It’s a great feeling to know that I was able to be a part of that.”
David Rice, Ph.D., R.N., N.P., the director of clinical practice and education in the Department of Professional Practice and Education at City of Hope, is one of Wakefield’s neighbors and remembers that special day – as well as what it meant those who know Lester and Carlos.
“It was compelling to see that one man gave life – literally – to another man, and because of that, that momentous day in their lives could come to be,” Rice said.
Learn more about City of Hope's bone marrow and stem cell transplant program. If you are looking for a second opinion about your diagnosis or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-4673. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.
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