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Celebrating the Legacy of Dr. Don Thomas, Father of the Bone Marrow Transplant

October 26, 2012

A sea of grateful faces. Thank you Dr. Thomas.

This week, the crusade to end terminal cancer lost a best friend, Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, who passed away at 92. Don lived long enough to see a cancer treatment he pioneered save tens of thousands of lives.

That treatment is called the bone marrow transplant, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1990.  Don’s professional accomplishments are extraordinary and extensive, as you would expect from a man whose work has saved lives around the globe. His greatest prize was his patients calling themselves survivors and seeing their smiling faces.

Don had stature. When he entered a room, the air shifted and you felt you were in the presence of greatness. But his friendly disposition allowed him to relate to virtually anyone, be they brilliant researchers, financial donors, or those whose lives he saved.  I’ve never seen someone so revered and loved by so many different groups of people.

Legacy for Life reunion, 7 years cancer-free, 2011

Last summer while working on the Legacy for Life Transplant Survivor Reunion held at Fred Hutch every 5 years, I wondered out loud how many people an event held in the middle of a Seattle summer could attract.  My colleague reassuringly said, “You’ll see. Former patients will plan their entire summer around this event.”

She was right.  Over 800 packed the ballroom including 300 former patients and their families. They traveled from all over the world to revisit the Center. It was the most meaningful event I’ve ever attended. Patients, family members and medical professionals flocked to Don and his beloved wife and research partner, Dottie.  Don

graciously welcomed everyone. You could hear a pin drop when he addressed the crowd.

Celebrating with Don and Dottie Thomas, July 2011.

The ballroom held just a small sampling of the people saved by Don Thomas. They recovered.  They had children, and their children had children.  They re-engaged with friends and rebuilt their careers. They were there to thank the man who gave them hope when they were losing it. Imagine what it was like for him to look out at that sea of grateful faces.

In the medical world, Don had rock star status, respected by peers, honored by his profession, and beloved by the many who lived because he lived.  Thank you, Don.

~ Lisa Carlson & Laura Anderson

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 26, 2012 5:51 am

    A friend of mine worked at The Hutch in the “early days” of bone marrow transplant; at that time, the mortality rate was higher than desired (common with new therapies), but everyone knew it was just a matter of time before the better medications were found, better chemo treatments were done, and better matching could occur. The Nurses worked very, very hard for their patients, as all knew this was a pioneering effort and they were making history. Dr. Thomas did alot for many, many people with his forward thinking which I’m sure many, many thought his “wonder if” was quite illogical at the time. Look where we are today…..what a gift he gave so many people.

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