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Donors, receivers meet to mark milestone

April 29, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
All eyes seemed to be on London Friday, but for some very thankful people, the real celebration was in Duarte. That's where cancer survivors met people who gave of themselves - literally - to save lives.

Dignitaries and guests descended upon the City of Hope Medical Center for a celebration they feel rivals the royal wedding in London.

"For us, the real royal family is not in London, it's here in Duarte," said City of Hope's Dr. Stephen Forman.

In a very intimate and special reunion, leukemia survivor Jerome Williams from Toluca Lake met the Miami woman who saved his life with her blood stem cells.

"If Ms. Cunningham hadn't stepped up, no, I would not be here," said Williams.

"I told myself that if my mom had the same issue, that I would pray and hope that somebody else would do it, so I knew that I was that hope for somebody else," said donor Janelle Cunningham.

Leukemia survivor Anita Finnegan of Altadena greeted her heroine, Carolyn Rogers of Chicago, with humor and gratitude.

"Here she is," said Finnegan. "My hero of my life and my twin sister, and I'm her clone. So here's my donor cloner."

Doctors hope this moving occasion will inspire more people to become bone-marrow donors.

Once you've registered and then you get the call, the first reaction is to get scared, but as many donors will tell you, the process is really quite simple.

"Kind of like dialysis. They take blood out one arm, separate the stem cells, and they put it back in your other arm," said Cunningham. "It's less invasive than the actual spinal-tap-like thing."

The reunion also marks City of Hope's 10,000th bone-marrow transplant. Doctors say the event is worth all the attention of a royal wedding.

"I wish them well, the royal couple, but these are patients who came here with their lives on the line, and to be able to survive the transplant, go on with their life and meet their donor is a remarkable event," said Dr. Stephen Forman.

Both Jerome and Anita received their bone marrow transplants within the last three years. Usually recipients and donors can contact one another a year after the surgery.