Thriving after Blood and Marrow Transplants: The 24th Annual Celebration of Life at MSK

People sitting and clapping at a table

People including Christine Wonica (center) who received blood and marrow transplants at Memorial Sloan Kettering came together to share their experiences with other transplants recipients, caregivers and MSK staff at the 24th annual event hosted by MSK. Christine was joined by her husband Tom (right).

It was a night of long hugs, standing ovations, well-earned tears, and “can you believe it?” stories, as Memorial Sloan Kettering hosted a lavish party to honor the patients, staff, and caregivers of MSK’s renowned Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) Service.

The event marked MSK’s 24th annual celebration of “Thrivers” — people intent on flourishing as they regain their health and well-being after receiving a transplant.

Blood and marrow stem cell transplants can be lifesaving, particularly for those with blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. But many people describe the transplants and the months spent recuperating as the most grueling experience of their lives. Thrivers and their care teams credit the deep bonds they forge during treatment as vital to recovery.

Hill Karl-Otto speaks onstage, telling his experiences receiving a BMT procedure at Memorial Sloan Kettering, during the 24th annual event to honor the patients, caregivers, and staff of the MSK Blood Marrow Transplant Service.

Hill Karl-Otto received a loud ovation when he told his fellow party-goers that 13 months after receiving a transplant at MSK, he returned to full duty as a police officer for Nassau Country in Long Island, where he is a 22-year veteran. He praised his MSK care team for helping save his life, while treating him like family.

Esperanza Papadopoulos said Peter Hamburger, who she began treating for leukemia in 2012, is one of many people she has cared for who “moved from patient to friend.” Seven years after his transplant, they now get together with their spouses for dinner, along with the nurses who helped care for Mr. Hamburger.

Event hosts Sergio Giralt and Jaap-Jan Boelens presented research showing that survival and quality of life are improving significantly for patients who receive blood and marrow transplants at MSK. They also previewed the next evolution of the BMT Service, which will expand in 2020 into the MSK David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care. This new home will help the service build on its legacy of innovation in outpatient transplant care, CAR T cell therapy, and other advances in treating cancer.

Peter Hamburger speaks onstage during the Thrivers Event hosted by Memorial Sloan Kettering, to honor the patients, caregivers, and staff of MSK’s Bone Marrow Transplant Service.

Peter Hamburger told the crowd he persevered though cancer and his BMT experience in 2012 thanks to a relentlessly positive attitude, a single-minded determination to recover, and an ipod full of jazz, rock and classical music, which he often lent to fellow patients when he noticed they needed a lift.

Miguel-Angel Perales summed up the night’s life-affirming spirit: “My favorite quote from one of my patients at this event was ‘My ten-year BMT anniversary was this August, and I completely forgot until we were out celebrating my brother’s birthday a few days later.’” Dr. Perales concluded that “when life moves on, we know patients are thriving.”