SALT LAKE CITY, UT (4/26/2010) – A Salt Lake City man who is alive thanks to a bone marrow transplant at LDS Hospital is flying to New York this week to see the Big Apple, rub elbows with rocker Jon Bon Jovi, and for the first time, meet the generous stranger who saved his life.
Two years ago, David Jolley thought he had a cold or the flu when he left law school in Washington for a Thanksgiving trip home to Salt Lake City. The night before he was scheduled to return, his family persuaded him to visit an emergency room because of his lingering illness.
“They did a blood test and found out it was leukemia,” says David. “They rushed me to LDS Hospital where they told me it was pretty serious. I needed a bone marrow transplant.”
No one in David’s family was a match, so his name was placed on a registry of leukemia patients and possible bone marrow donors.
At about the same time, Stefanie Kienstra attended a huge blood drive at her school, the University of Missouri, during homecoming events in 2007. While there, someone asked if she’d be willing to be tested as a possible donor for the registry.
“I did a cheek swab with a Q-tip and then after that, I didn’t give it a second thought,” she says.
But within a couple of weeks, David and Stefanie both got phone calls telling them they had been matched anonymously. Stefanie immediately agreed to donate her marrow, and over spring break she went in for surgery.
“People always say to me, that’s so scary, it’s terrifying. But it wasn’t. It was exciting because I was able to help someone who was a complete stranger but who, for some reason, we have this in common,” says Stefanie, 22.
Her marrow was flown from St. Louis to Salt Lake City and transplanted into David that same day at LDS Hospital.
LDS Hospital is the only hospital that offers a combined leukemia treatment and bone marrow transplant program in the Intermountain West. Unlike many centers, LDS Hospital uses molecular testing to determine an individual’s risk and prediction that the leukemia will return. In David’s case, the risk was high.
“If he had gone to a smaller center, he might not have gotten the transplant, and chances are the leukemia would return,” says LaDee Dangerfield, the coordinator who oversaw David’s care at LDS Hospital.
Two Year Anniversary
Today, after fighting some initial transplant complications, David has passed his two-year anniversary — an important milestone for leukemia survivors. He has returned to law school and graduated. And he’s settled in Salt Lake City with his wife.
Stefanie organized a bone marrow registration drive at her sorority that has resulted in at least two other bone marrow matches, and she’s about to graduate from college with degrees in psychology and journalism.
But the two have never met. That will change this week at a gala to benefit the bone marrow registry known as DKMS.
“It’s an understatement to say I’m excited,” says David, 34. “This woman just sounds incredible. I am extremely grateful for what she did. She saved my life.”
“I’m really excited to meet him,” says Stef. “We’ve been emailing back and forth to set up a time to talk after the gala. It was interesting to think that we were both students, totally at other ends of the earth,” and that one cheek swab brought them together.
The two will meet Thursday at the New York City fundraiser featuring Jon Bon Jovi and other celebrities to benefit DKMS, the largest bone marrow donor center in the world, with more than 2 million registered donors.
“We want to give people hope and show them that we can save lives,” says Alina Supranova, a donor recruitment official with DKMS. “Stef and David show that this does work and you can come from anywhere and save a life.”
“I’m so happy that he’s is doing well and that he has this opportunity to meet his donor. It’s a happy ending,” says Dangerfield from LDS Hospital.