Focus

 

 

From German Soccer Field to New Hampshire Wedding: volunteer firefighter thanks bone marrow donor for "gift of life"

Registering to be a bone marrow donor is easy. Your gift could save one life, and change many others forever.

Focus article photo

Korey Pierce (center) with (l. to r.) NCCC transplant nurse coordinator Kate Wilcox, fiancée Amy Arbour, NCCC transplant nurse coordinator Lynn Root, and Dr. John Hill, director of Allogeneic Transplantation at Norris Cotton Cancer Center’s BMT program, at welcoming gathering for Fabian Kaempf, a registered bone marrow donor from Germany who was identified as a life-saving match for Ashland NH Firefighter Korey Pierce.

When 19-year-old Korey Pierce was diagnosed with aplastic anemia in 2007, he faced a dismal future. After a year of care his doctors wanted to try another treatment: he needed a bone marrow transplant.

"His only real chance for a normal lifespan without risk for a significant infection was to get a bone marrow transplant," said Dr. John Hill, director of Allogeneic Transplantation at Norris Cotton Cancer Center's Blood and Marrow Transplantation (BMT) program, and a member of Pierce's treatment team.

It started with a German soccer team…

At about the same time, an entire soccer team in Muenster, Germany was registering with Delete Blood Cancer DKMS Bone Marrow registry, hoping to provide a stem cell match for a teammate's mother. One of those athletes, Fabian Kaempf, was not a match for his friend's mother−but he was for Pierce, who lived thousands of miles away in Ashland, NH. Because of Kaempf's "gift of life," Pierce had a successful bone marrow transplant at DHMC in 2008.


Donor Fabian Kaempf with Korey Pierce

Pierce wanted to thank his "genetic twin" and asked for his name. A friendship developed as the two stayed in touch on Facebook, and when Pierce felt well enough to plan a wedding he knew Kaempf had to be at the ceremony. "He was the first person I asked to come," he said. "I didn't care that we'd never met. He's like a brother to me!"

"Korey might not have been here were it not for Fabian"

They finally met face-to-face on February 13, 2013 at a bus stop in Plymouth NH as Kaempf arrived in town for the wedding. They were surrounded by a cheering crowd—NCCC staff, Pierce's colleagues from the volunteer fire department, family and friends, and his soon-to-be- bride, Amy Arbour.

"Korey may not have been here were it not for Fabian, so we're very, very delighted that he'll be here with us," she said.

"If I didn't have all of you, I wouldn't have been able to do it."

Pierce acknowledges the support he's received over the years. A volunteer fire-fighter in Ashland, he helped with bone marrow drives in New Hampshire and two who registered at those drives—a local police chief and a firefighter—later became life-saving matches to others. And he made sure that Kaempf met the DHMC team that had helped him through difficult times over the years.

Cancer care is a team effort

Cancer care is always a team effort. Given the complicated nature of Pierce's initial illness, transplant process, and subsequent complications from the graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) that followed, his care involved a very large team at DHMC: researchers; the transplant group; infectious disease specialists; and members of orthopedic, infusion room, blood donor, GI, ICU, Hematology Special Care Unit, and 1 West staff.

blood marrow staff dhmc nccc
DHMC doctors, nurses, and staff members laugh as Korey Pierce thanks the many DHMC staff that cared for him

"We've all known Korey since the start with this," said Kate Wilcox, a transplant nurse coordinator at NCCC. Another of the unit's transplant nurse coordinators, Lynn Root, agreed: "It's what I like most about my job. We have that continuity through the whole process with patients, from the initial consult to post transplant care."

At a celebration at NCCC on February 14, 2013, people lined up to embrace Pierce and to meet the donor. "There was so much support in every different part of the hospital," he told them. "If I didn't have all of you, I wouldn't have been able to do it."

But no member of Pierce's team wanted to be singled out for credit: Doctors, nurses, and staff talked of Pierce's spirit, praising his persistence, humor, and charismatic personality. Dr. Kenneth Meehan, director of the Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program, credited Kaempf.

"Seeing Korey come fact-to-face with his donor means a lot to everyone who has been involved," he said as he presented Kaempf with a certificate from the team, in appreciation for his "gift of life."

Kaempf replied: "I am only a small part of everyone who helped−thank you to all of you for making Korey's life more awesome." And Dr. Hill noted that all involved in the process are given a gift.

"What we get back is the positive spirit we see in our patients," Hill said in his remarks. "Korey redefines resilience almost every day. What we get back is what we learn from our patients about life and living."

For more information about registering about becoming a donor, visit Be the Match or Delete Blood Cancer. For more information about Norris Cotton Cancer Center's Blood and Marrow Transplant program, visit cancer.dartmouth.edu/bmt

February 25, 2013