'His life might not have been saved'

Needing a bone marrow transplant and having no matching donors, Gregg Gordon came to Fred Hutch

It started with two bumps under his chin. Gregg Gordon, a New York father of two who’d always been perfectly healthy, was mystified about what they were and why they weren’t going away. After seeing several doctors, he and his wife got a phone call at home.

“The doctor called and said ‘We think Gregg has leukemia … and we need to move fast,’” remembers Caryn Gordon.

His best treatment option seemed to be a bone marrow transplant – but there were no donors in his family or in the larger pool who were matches for him.

Devastated, they began to think about other options – that was when they first learned about the innovative cord blood stem cell expansion work being at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Dr. Colleen Delaney pioneered a series of technologies to expand the number of stem cells in cord blood. The process could make transplants available to thousands of patients like Gregg who can’t find tissue-matched bone marrow donors. The expanded stem cells also mean a faster recovery.

“We said to ourselves, if you’re going to go away and your only objective in life is to be cured, you go to the best place in the world – and that’s why we picked the Hutch,” he said.

They met Delaney who oversaw Gregg’s transplant – and his recovery.

“I revel in (patients’) successes,” says Delaney.“ I cry when things don’t turn out the way they are supposed to turn out. But (the patients) are all a part of me.”

The Gordons credit Delaney for giving them a future – all made possible by the work going on at the Hutch.
“We all go through our daily lives never thinking about the work these brilliant scientists are doing in the lab … but if they weren’t doing what they are doing, Gregg’s life wouldn’t have been saved,” says Caryn Gordon. “If Colleen’s passion wasn’t her passion, his life might not have been saved."

Linda Dahlstrom is a former Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center editor. Previously, she was the health editor for NBC News Digital and msnbc.com. She also worked at several newspapers during her 25-year career as a journalist covering AIDS, cancer, end-of-life issues and global health.

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