Transplant recipients meet donors for first time at City of Hope’s 40th Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion

April 21, 2016

Letisia Marquez
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Acclaimed producer Steven Bochco joins teenage recipient and other BMT survivors in saying heartfelt ‘thank you’ to donors

DUARTE, Calif. — For the past year and a half, celebrated television producer and writer Steven Bochco has yearned to ask the anonymous 23-year-old who helped him beat cancer an important question: What motivates a person – especially one so young with his whole life ahead of him – to become a bone marrow donor, potentially saving an unknown person’s life?

“When I was 23 … I never thought about doing something so profound and life-altering for someone else,” said Bochco, who received a stem cell transplant at City of Hope in late 2014. “I’ve had him in my head and in my heart ever since.”

On May 6, Bochco, 72, will finally be able to personally thank his donor at City of Hope’s
40th Annual Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion, also known as the Celebration of Life. He’ll be joined by Dominick Folbrecht, 15, another grateful patient who also received a lifesaving transplant from a young donor he’s never met.

Bochco, a 10-time Emmy winner who produced such television hits as “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law,” “Doogie Howser, M.D.” and “NYPD Blue,” was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia – blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm – in the summer of 2014. He spent 70 days at City of Hope, which included three rounds of chemotherapy to eradicate the cancer cells and help prepare his body for the transplant, as well as recovery time after the procedure.

As difficult as those moments were, Bochco said he experienced firsthand City of Hope’s unique combination of optimism, compassion and commitment to its patients. 

“Before I even met my doctor, Dr. Stephen Forman, I’d been told by those who knew him that he walked on water,” said Bochco, referring to the leader of the  Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute at City of Hope. “Dr. Forman was so empathetic and knowledgeable.

“Every single person I met at City of Hope — from the admitting personnel to my day-to-day nurses — were just remarkable people,” he added. “When you’re dealing with something that is life-threatening, you really want to feel good about the people you’re entrusting your life to.”

That’s a sentiment shared by Dominick, who faced serious health challenges early on and at a time when he had an unstable family life. And in his case, his treatment at City of Hope also helped him find a family.

Dominick was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2010 when he was just 9 years old. He was treated and went into remission but the cancer returned in late 2014. At the time, Dominick was admitted to City of Hope but didn’t have a family to take care of him. He was referred to Jeanelle Folbrecht, Ph.D., a City of Hope psychologist, for counseling.

“After reviewing his case and talking to those providing care for him, I realized he didn't need a psychologist; he needed a mom,” Folbrecht said. The mother of two teenagers had been contemplating adoption for several months but had told herself: “If it’s meant to be, it will just fall into our lap … and then we found out Dominick needed a family.”

The Folbrechts, who are in the process of adopting him, considered it “a real miracle” when they then found out that an unrelated donor had been found for Dominick.

“I felt happy and excited,” Dominick said. The Denver Broncos fan beamed as he recounted that he’s now strong enough to play on a flag football team and recently scored two touchdowns in one game.

City of Hope has hosted an annual reunion for bone marrow transplant patients such as Bochco and Dominick for the past four decades. Bone marrow transplants offer a second chance for people with life-threatening blood cancers and other hematologic malignancies. Since 1976, more than 13,000 patients from virtually every state and dozens of countries have undergone bone marrow, cord blood or stem cell transplants at City of Hope.

What began with a birthday cake and a single candle representing a patient’s first year free from cancer has grown into an annual picnic extravaganza that draws more than 4,000 survivors, donors and families from around the world.

The patient-donor meetings are the event’s emotional highlight. Many recipients, though overwhelmed with curiosity and the need to express their gratitude, can only dream of meeting the strangers who saved their lives. City of Hope makes that dream come true for two patients every year.

“The reunion emphasizes what research, and exceptional nursing and physician care, have accomplished to save the lives of patients and those who will rely on us for leading-edge treatment in coming years,” said Forman, who is also the Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope. “The event is both inspiring and moving. Each patient has a unique story, and we are proud and grateful to be a part of their lives.”

City of Hope has the only transplant program in the nation to achieve 11 consecutive reporting years of “over performance” in one-year overall patient survival, according to the most recent data from the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research.

In addition, City of Hope is bridging the way to the next frontier in treating these cancer patients: using immunotherapy to train a patient’s immune system to fight cancer. Amid the transplant survivors at the reunion are a handful of patients who represent a new generation of blood cancer survivors: patients treated in clinical trials with T cell immunotherapy. These patients’ own immune cells were extracted, modified to enable them to recognize and attack cancer cells, and then reinfused back into the patients.

Bochco, Dominick and their donors will be the highlight of a 10 a.m. news conference at a new location on the City of Hope campus – the Argyros Family Garden of Hope, located in front of City of Hope Helford Clinical Research Hospital.

Later that afternoon, City of Hope will host a program of entertainment for survivors, donors and families. Among the highlights:

  • A chance to mingle with a special guest from the Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Comedy from cancer survivor and comedian Sean Kent, who will be celebrating 13 years as a cancer survivor
  • Musical performances


About City of Hope
City of Hope is an independent research and treatment center for cancer, diabetes and other life-threatening diseases. Designated as one of only 45 comprehensive cancer centers, the highest recognition bestowed by the National Cancer Institute, City of Hope is also a founding member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, with research and treatment protocols that advance care throughout the world. City of Hope is located in Duarte, California, just northeast of Los Angeles, with community clinics throughout Southern California. It is ranked as one of "America's Best Hospitals" in cancer by U.S. News & World Report. Founded in 1913, City of Hope is a pioneer in the fields of bone marrow transplantation, diabetes and numerous breakthrough cancer drugs based on technology developed at the institution.

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