Healing by the numbers

Hutch Magazine

Healing by the numbers

Meet Hutch donor and numbers guy Shubang Gan

Shubang Gan at the Fred Hutch Visitor Center

Shubang Gan at the Fred Hutch Visitor Center.

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch

FORTY. That's how old Shubang Gan, a now-retired aerodynamics engineer was when he immigrated to the U.S. from Shanghai to attend Princeton. 2004. That's the year he was diagnosed with a rare cancer known as NK T-cell lymphoma.

Seventeen, he said, is the number of days it took for new bone marrow to start growing after his doctors knocked out his immune system with chemo and radiation therapy, and then performed a blood stem cell transplant to eradicate the cancer.

Two thousand. That's how many calories a day of "really bad" hospital food Gan had to consume before his doctors would let him go home ("The waffle was thick like a brick!" he recalled).

It took one year for Gan to fully recover from his transplant and boldly quit his job in order to pursue a passion project that would provide "something meaningful for the human race." His quest led him to Alaska, the 49th state of the union, which was seeking innovative, sustainable energy solutions.

Three. That's the number of blades on a wind turbine, which Gan knew would be a better energy source for the remote reaches of Alaska than trucked-in diesel fuel, which typically freezes at 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Alaska's limited roads and rail lines, however, made transporting the huge turbine blades a problem. Tapping his aerodynamics expertise and his manufacturing savvy, Gan designed and shepherded the production and shipment (via container ship across the Pacific, then barge to Alaska) of dozens of 70-foot-long, 600-pound fiberglass blades. Wind turbines now provide electricity in 28 small Alaskan villages 365 days a year.

Four is how many items, including the wind project, Gan has now checked off his post-diagnosis "bucket list." Seeing the 48-mile-long Panama Canal was another; ditto for participating in a Fred Hutch fundraiser. Still active at 69, Gan was one of more than 1,200 supporters who climbed 832 steps to the top of the Space Needle as part of Base 2 Space on Oct. 2. The event raised more than $430,000. It took the Bothell, Washington, resident 14 minutes to make the climb, he said, which he did while wearing a pair of glasses — printed on his 3-D printer — in the shape of the number 5,005. That's how many days he'd been alive since his transplant, he says proudly.

Gan recently commemorated both his survivorship and the "wonderful" team that cared for him during his cancer treatment with a 12-inch by 24-inch slate on Fred Hutch campus engraved with Chinese characters expressing his deep appreciation. "It's a very Chinese tradition to send something to the doctor or physician to show thanks," he said. "Every doctor and every nurse was so kind."

How many people helped him get to this point? Too many to count, he said, with a laugh.

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