Kent Klingman's life changed forever in 1997 when he went to see his doctor about a sore throat. Tests revealed the father of two had a much deeper problem — acute myelogenous leukemia — and it had already advanced. Though he started chemotherapy right away, the leukemia did not respond.
Told he had a month to live if he didn't receive a bone-marrow transplant, Kent had no luck finding a suitable donor through local and national marrow registries. Running out of options, he decided to participate in a clinical trial for a new treatment developed at the Hutchinson Center — a blood stem-cell transplant. Still, a matching donor had to be found.
Kent Klingman, center, and Mathias Junge, right, met with Dr. Fred Appelbaum, director of the Clinical Research Division, during a tour of the Center.
The resulting stem-cell transplant was only the second of its kind to be performed, and it saved Kent's life.
Driven to express his gratitude to the stem-cell donor he'd never met, Kent tried to contact Mathias through the donor registry. But through a misunderstanding, he was led to believe Mathias wanted to remain anonymous.
Nine years passed. At 43, Kent was organizing his 10th annual golf tournament to support the Center's Family Assistance Fund. Kent had made it his personal mission to support the fund that provided financial help during his treatment.
He was also making plans to marry his longtime love, Martha Ellis. With determination and persistence, his fiancé was secretly trying to track down Kent's stem-cell donor. She enlisted the help of a transplant nurse, who was eventually able to locate and contact Mathias. Because he had never received Kent's letters, Mathias had concluded the worst — that the recipient of his stem cells had died. Hewas was overjoyed to hear otherwise.
When Kent learned his donor had been located, he longed for the opportunity to thank him in person. But Martha had one more surprise in store: she arranged to fly Mathias to Seattle in time for the wedding. Finally, last March, Mathias showed up at the Klingman home to meet the man he helped save.
The two hit it off, and in the happy days before the wedding, they spent time sightseeing in Seattle and touring the Center, visiting doctors, nurses and others who helped Kent through his battle with leukemia.
"It was worth the wait, but I was speechless when I finally saw Mathias," Kent said. "I can't imagine what he anticipated. From his end, he must have feared the worst, thinking maybe he didn't want to know what had happened to me. That thought had never crossed my mind."
Having found a new friend with a profoundly deep connection, Mathias plans a return visit this summer to participate in the Klingman Open golf tournament.