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City of Hope unites patients with bone marrow donors

May 11, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's not every day you get the chance to meet the stranger who saved your life, but such opportunities are becoming more common place because of the growing marrow registry. Patients and donors at The City of Hope got that chance on Friday.

Cat Benson flew all the way to Los Angeles from London to meet the 6 year old who has changed her life forever. Or maybe his family will say, she's changed his.

Diana Wilfrank's son, Gavin was diagnosed with leukemia at seven months old. He needed a marrow transplant to stay alive. Benson, his donor, was located all the way from the U.K. thanks to the National Marrow Registry.

"She's become a huge part of lives, it's nice to finally put a name and a face to our awesome donor," said Wilfrank.

The decision to be Gavin's donor is one Benson doesn't regret.

"He's been well for a year, and he can now have his own life and his parents can watch him grow up and go to school, graduate, get girlfriends, drive his car," said Benson.

Also at City of Hope's 36th annual Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion was Julie Dresner, a 61-year-old Hodgkins Lymphoma survivor from Pacific Palisades. It was there that she met her life saving marrow donor, Michelle Miller of Rhode Island.

Desner says her brother was only a 50 percent match to her bone marrow, but the registry found Miller, who was a 100 percent match. Doctors recommended Miller, even though the two women didn't know each other.

"You can't beat saving another person's life," said Miller.

Registering your marrow requires a simple cheek swab. The donation process can be as easy as donating blood.

"Everybody needs to put their name on that list. Because there are many people out there that don't find a donor," said Wilfrank.

And no matter how man reunions you see at City of hope, doctors say it never gets old.

"There's a long afterglow to this, that whenever we're having maybe a difficult day, we thnk about days like today, and we know what we're supposed to do," said City of Hope's Dr. Stephen Foreman.

Since the transplant program began, doctors say they've cared for more than 10 thousand adults and children suffering from life threatening cancer.

More than 1,000 of the transplants performed have come from international donors.

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