Around 700 people joined the 23rd annual celebration for blood and marrow transplant thrivers at 583 Park Avenue, an event space in New York City.
When Bridget Anderson learned there were no donor matches for a transplant to treat her acute leukemia, her doctor urged her to go to Memorial Sloan Kettering to see Juliet Barker, whom he called "the guru of cord blood transplants." The procedure uses stem cells from the umbilical cord blood of a healthy newborn. Three years after her transplant, Ms. Anderson is restored to health and says she is proof "that MSK can give you hope."
Geri Hotard (right) was overjoyed when her anonymous bone marrow donor agreed to meet her last year in his hometown in Germany. During their first meeting, she asked Michael Meister, the man she calls her hero, "Why did you give me this donation? I'm a stranger. I'm not even German." He replied, "Because I could, because I wanted to help," drawing a loud and long ovation from patients, family members, and fellow donors.
Martin Pogorzelski says his cancer journey taught him about love — the love of a mother and father who "made sure I was getting care at the best possible facility: Memorial Sloan Kettering"; the love of life that makes each moment precious after a transplant; and the love of his life, his wife, Christa, who is a nurse at MSK. Among the guests at their wedding was his transplant doctor, Parastoo Dahi.
Sergio Giralt (left), Chief of the Adult Bone Marrow Transplant Service, thanked staff members like Chelsea Brooklyn, saying their expertise and compassion is why Memorial Sloan Kettering can offer the most-advanced forms of transplantation. He also invited patients returning for checkups to see the new state-of-the-art blood and marrow transplant unit at MSK. He praised the constant stream of advances pioneered by MSK, including CAR T cell therapy, joking, "If I'm still performing transplants the same way 15 years from now, slap me."
Richard O'Reilly (right), a towering figure in the field and Memorial Sloan Kettering's longtime Chief of the Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Service, introduced the next chief, Jaap Jan JJ Boelens (left). Dr. O'Reilly praised Dr. Boelens as a leader in therapies that improve outcomes while reducing side effects. Dr. Boelens said many lives have been saved thanks to the advances Dr. O'Reilly has helped create over decades of world-class research and clinical practice.
“There is nothing that energizes us more than seeing you return to your lives. So tonight, we say ‘thank you,’” said Sergio Giralt, Chief of MSK’s Adult Bone Marrow Transplant Service.
It was a fitting kickoff to a night of laughter, hugs, and heartfelt tears, as Memorial Sloan Kettering held its 23rd annual celebration for people who received blood and marrow transplants.
On October 2, more than 200 MSK patients came from half a dozen states, bringing along hundreds of family, friends, donors, and caregivers to celebrate with them. They were joined by the doctors, nurses, and other staff from the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) Service who care for people during their complex and grueling return to health after a transplant.
As always, the event featured incredible reunions. Geri Hotard, a BMT recipient from Connecticut, brought the crowd to their feet — many of them in tears — when she introduced Michael Meister, whose bone marrow donation helped save her life. Mr. Meister traveled to the event from his home in Germany, and now these former strangers share a lifelong bond.
Dr. Giralt remarked that just as the celebration grows every year, so too does the number of BMT recipients cared for by MSK. In 2018, for the first time, MSK doctors will perform more than 500 adult transplants. He also promised that MSK will continue its efforts to improve access so people can get the transplants they need. He noted that because of the MSK Cancer Alliance, many more people are receiving lifesaving transplants.
Click through the slideshow above to learn more about the inspiring people at this event, who have not just survived transplants but are thriving!