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University of Iowa News Release

Nov. 3, 2003

Participants To 'Celebrate Life' At Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion

Approximately 400 patients who have received a bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant, their families and caregivers will attend the 6th Annual Celebrating Life Reunion from 1 to 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7 at the Quality Inn & Suites, located at 2525 North Dodge St. in Iowa City. During the celebration, a patient will meet for the first time the donor who helped save his life.

Sixty-year-old Peter Kurt of Bernard, Iowa learned of his health challenge in the spring of 2000.

"I was told by my local doctor that I had myelofibrosis-myeloid metaplasia. He said there was no cure and I had one to three years to live," Kurt recalled. He sought a second opinion with C. Patrick Burns, M.D., professor of internal medicine in the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and a specialist in hematology-oncology and blood and marrow transplantation at UI Hospitals and Clinics. Kurt was referred to Margarida Silverman, M.D., UI professor (clinical) of internal medicine, for a marrow transplant. His nine brothers and sisters were tested to determine if they shared his tissue type so they could provide the life-saving marrow for his transplant. Each brother or sister has a one-in-four chance of being a perfect match. Kurt said he was devastated to learn that none of his brothers and sisters shared his tissue type.

A search began through the unrelated donor registries for a life-saving match from a healthy volunteer. Kurt couldn't have known that the search for his miracle match would be exhaustive and would finally end more than 2,000 miles away. He received his marrow transplant on April 4, 2002.

"I was told three years ago I would not be here in three years, but I beat those odds and I hope this is the successful beginning of a new life for me," Kurt said.

During the Nov. 7 reunion, Kurt will meet 35-year-old Alexandra Fernandez Navarro when she travels to Iowa from her home in Puerto Rico to meet the man who received her life-saving marrow.

The Adult Blood and Marrow Transplant Unit at UI Hospitals and Clinics and the Iowa Marrow Donor Program are sponsoring the reunion. Specialists at UI Hospitals and Clinics performed the first marrow transplant there in 1980. Since then, approximately 1,525 people have received transplants there. The unit currently transplants more than 75 people each year.

Roger Gingrich, M.D., Ph.D., UI professor of internal medicine, directs the transplant unit and serves as associate director for clinical affairs in the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI.

"As a transplant team, our goal is to restore people back to their lives," Gingrich said. "When patients come and stay with us on our Adult Blood & Marrow Transplant Unit for their transplants, we see them at their most vulnerable. At our Celebrating Life Reunion, we meet again in the arena of renewed life."

Colleen Reardon Chapleau, director of the Iowa Marrow Donor Program, added, "This event is a true celebration of the spirit. We share stories, triumphs, challenges and the beauty we find in everyday life."

People in need of a blood stem cell transplant are diagnosed with a life-threatening disease such as leukemia, lymphoma and aplastic anemia. A blood stem cell transplant involves the use of high doses of anticancer drugs or radiation to destroy the patient's diseased marrow and then giving the patient healthy blood stem cells as a replacement. In an autologous transplant, the patient's own blood stem cells are harvested, possibly treated, and then transplanted. In an allogenic transplant, another person donates the healthy marrow or blood stem cells.

Each year, more than 30,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with diseases treatable by a blood stem cell transplant. Of the patients needing to receive healthy blood stem cells from someone else, only 30 percent have a suitable family match, leaving the additional 70 percent to rely on unrelated donors.

(NOTE to EDITORS: Registration begins at 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7. The welcome and opening remarks will occur at 1:30 p.m. Kurt will meet his donor at approximately 2:30 p.m. For assistance in covering this event, please contact Tom Moore at 319- 356-3945.)

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at

STORY SOURCE: Joint Office for Planning, Marketing and Communications, University of Iowa Health Care, 200 Hawkins Drive, Room 8798 JPP, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1009.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Moore, 319-356-3945,