Despite pandemic and distance, young cancer patient finally meets life-saving donor

The pandemic has made these in-person reunions impossible, but City of Hope is making sure patients and donors get their moment.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A long-standing tradition at City of Hope unites bone marrow recipients with the donors who saved their lives.

The pandemic has made in-person "marrow reunions'' impossible, but despite being hundreds of miles away, a Northridge college student got to thank his donor face to face.

ABC7 first met avid Dodgers fan Julian Castaneda when the team played in the 2017 World Series.

A fellow City of Hope patient helped the fan, who was 16 at the time, get tickets. Castaneda still remembers that night.

"They broke a lot of records in that game. They went into extra innings," he said.

That was the same year Castaneda's leukemia made an aggressive return. He received life-saving marrow from a donor who would be unknown to him until now.

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The family of Mona Rodriguez, the Long Beach mother killed by a school officer, got to speak for the first time with a woman who received Mona's kidney in a transplant.

From his home in Germany, 27-year-old Johannes Eppler was filled with excitement to see how strong and healthy Castaneda looked.

Despite the distance, the two felt an immediate closeness.

"Meeting him for the first time was really just amazing," said Castaneda.

Eppler registered his marrow through an international nonprofit group called DKMS. It recruits donors around the world. Castaneda is grateful Eppler would donate his marrow to a complete stranger.

"It would have been great to give him a hug, but just being able to see him is just good to have," he said.

The Dodgers playing in the playoffs made the bone marrow reunion even sweeter.

The California State University, Northridge student even got a shout out from Dodger Manager Dave Roberts.

"To be able to be noticed by the Dodgers is just super cool and super exciting," Castaneda said.

The annual City of Hope event usually attracts thousands of former patients, family members and staff.

While they can't gather again this year, the miracle of bone marrow transplantation is what bonds them together.

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