blood cells

Young Leukemia Survivor to Meet Donor Who Saved Her Life

Only 4 years old when she was diagnosed with blood cancer, Tammy Wang needed a bone marrow transplant to survive. She will meet the young student who shared her lifesaving cells during City of Hope’s 48th Annual Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion

At 9 years old, Tammy Wang has already survived cancer twice. She was just 4 years old when she was diagnosed with leukemia and received chemotherapy for two and a half years at City of Hope Children’s Cancer Center. Just six months after chemotherapy ended, Tammy’s leukemia  returned. Tammy, who is an only child, would need a transplant to beat the cancer again and put it into long-lasting remission.

On Aug. 3, 2022, Tammy received bone marrow from a female college student in the United States. Tammy and her family knew very little about the young woman who donated, but they were extremely grateful that the person wanted to donate bone marrow to a young girl she had never met.

Tammy Wang
Tammy Wang at age 7, before her relapse. 

On Friday, May 3, at a 10 a.m. press conference on the cancer center’s Duarte, California, campus, Tammy and her family will meet her donor for the first time at City of Hope’s 48th Annual Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) Reunion. The BMT Reunion, one of the largest events of its kind in the nation, continued during the pandemic with virtual reunions, but this year, more than 3,000 transplant recipients, donors, families, medical staff and others will converge on City of Hope’s main campus to celebrate another chance at life.

“We thank patients and donors for allowing us into a very personal moment in their lives. Patients and their families express a profound gratitude to donors they are meeting for the first time for providing bone marrow or stem cells to save a life,” said Stephen J. Forman, M.D., renowned hematologist and director of City of Hope’s Hematologic Malignancies Research Institute. “City of Hope is honored and humbled to be a part of that moment. We also thank donors for taking part in the selfless act of donation to save lives.”

For nearly 50 years, City of Hope’s blood stem cell and bone marrow transplant program has performed more than 19,000 transplants, making it one of the largest programs in the nation. Early support from its philanthropic partners helped City of Hope become a leader and pioneer in bone marrow transplantation and has ensured the program's longevity and success. City of Hope has exceptional survivor rates year after year, according to the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research.

Over the years, City of Hope has also helped pioneer several BMT innovations, including being one of the first institutions to successfully perform BMTs in older adults and one of the first worldwide to cure a patient with HIV and leukemia from those diseases. City of Hope has also had growing success with nonrelated matched donors and, most recently, half-matched family donors.

Building on its BMT expertise, City of Hope is also a pioneer in the development of one of the newest immunotherapies to treat cancer: chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells. More than 1,200 patients have been treated with immune effector cells, including CAR T cell therapy, at City of Hope, which is also leveraging this form of innovative therapy as a pathway to a successful transplant.

City of Hope’s blood cancer expertise, including blood and stem cell transplants, is now available at all its cancer centers nationwide, bridging existing gaps by expanding access to optimal cancer care for patients navigating leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma and related hematologic diseases.

A long-awaited day for Tammy and family 

“I have looked forward to this day — to be able to thank Tammy’s donor for saving her life,” said Yi Wang, 40, Tammy’s mother, about the upcoming reunion. “Words cannot express what her donation means to us.”

Tammy was born in the United States but her parents, who are Chinese, moved back to their homeland when Tammy was a baby. When Tammy was 4, she had a fever for two days. Her parents took her to a hospital, where they were told that Tammy had leukemia.

“I was upset, shocked, sad, grieving. I refused to believe it. I felt a sense of helplessness,” Wang said. A friend told her to take Tammy to City of Hope in the U.S. immediately for treatment. Once there, Tammy was diagnosed with Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia and started chemotherapy.

“Chemotherapy was very painful for her,” Wang said. “But she was never depressed. She remained optimistic.”

Nicole Karras, M.D., a City of Hope Children’s Cancer Center pediatric hematologist, had informed the Wang family that Tammy’s cancer was a type that would likely return and that she would need a transplant to put her into lasting remission.

“The doctor said the cure rate with a transplant was very high, and I had full confidence in what she said,” Wang added.

When her cancer returned, Tammy would first need CAR T cell therapy to put her into remission. From there she was matched with a donor and received her lifesaving transplant.

Throughout Tammy’s medical treatment, the family received support from City of Hope’s Center for International Medicine (CIM). CIM provides international patients with a dedicated team that facilitates personalized treatment and supportive care, such as patient navigators who speak a patient’s language and can guide them through care.

Wang recalled how very early on the day of Tammy’s transplant, a CIM patient navigator was already at City of Hope, waiting for the family and for the procedure to start.

“CIM helped us cope with some very difficult moments, and we are grateful,” Wang said.

In addition to Tammy and her family meeting her donor, Southern California resident Terry Greene, 71, who survived chronic myelomonocytic leukemia, will also meet his international donor, a 24-year-old college student. Greene is Forman’s patient.

People interested in joining a bone marrow/stem cell registry can join at  my.bethematch.org or DKMS.org.