Kelley Cohen, a young school teacher from San Francisco who once had leukemia, will run the Nike Women’s half-marathon alongside a man with whom she shares a very special connection. Joe DiNatale, from Pennsylvania, is the man who saved her life.
For most leukemia patients, doctors try to kill the cancerous blood cells with many rounds of chemotherapy. For some, like Kelley who was diagnosed with two types of leukemia at age 18, her only hope of survival was to receive someone else’s healthy blood cells after hers had been purposely destroyed.
Kelley had just begun her freshman year at Loyola Marymount in L.A. when she became very ill. She went from the emergency room at UCLA directly to treatment for acute myelogenous leukemia and acute lymphocytic leukemia – both fast-growing cancers. It soon became apparent that a bone marrow transplant was her only option.
DiNatale, an Air Force fighter pilot, got the phone call telling him he was a perfect match and could give this young girl he didn’t know another chance at life.
“When they asked me if I would do it, I thought of my two young daughters and said ‘of course, I will. There’s no way I could say no,’” he said. “It has become the most significant thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
After his bone marrow was flown across the country for her to receive, the two waited a year to discover who was involved in this life-saving mystery. He would receive periodic updates that she was surviving, and she continued to blog to her family and friends that she wished she knew who had rescued her.
The two met on a special two-family vacation to Disneyland, when the year of silence and anonymity could be lifted. The families have become close, and the DiNatales have watched as Kelley finished college at the top of her class, travelled the world and became a school teacher.
“It’s so wonderful to see her progress and enjoy life,” he said. “I could see she wanted to take it all in after a scare like that.”
For Kelley, it was becoming time to give back. She became an LLS First Connection volunteer for new patients, easing their fears about treatment and life with no hair. “I figured out how I could help other people going through what I went through,” she said. “I can raise money and I can talk to people.”
“When I told Joe I had signed up with Team In Training to run the Nike Women’s Marathon, he said, ‘How bout I do that with you?’ I was thrilled!” she said.
Cheer on Team Perfect Match and the sea of TNT purple at the ninth annual Nike Women’s Marathon, this Sunday, October 14, 2012!
3,500 TNT athletes. $10 million raised. Simply fantastic!