It took seven years, but Larry Parks finally met the stem cell donor from Texas who saved his life.
Parks, of Red Deer, met Beverly Johnson on Oct. 24 in front the crowd of guests at a banquet in Longview, Texas.
“It’s still emotional for me,” said Parks, 60, on Monday after returning from Texas last week.
“I’ve spoken to so many groups and proudly told everyone about my donor from Longview, Texas. But I kind of given up on ever meeting her.”
In January 2007, Parks went to the doctor expecting to find out he had the flu. Instead he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
“The day after I had my diagnosis, I was in University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton with my first chemo treatment that night. There was no time to think about anything. I either took my treatment that day or else I did not survive to the end of the week,” said Central Alberta Co-op’s general manager.
After three intensive rounds of chemotherapy, he went into remission and found out a stem cell donor had been found.
His stem cell transplant went ahead on June 8, 2007 at Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary.
One year later, with Johnson’s permission, Parks was given her name, address and e-mail address to contact her.
He sent an e-mail, but there was no reply.
Six weeks later he tried again by mailing a letter and a year later sent another e-mail. In 2012, he sent a final e-mail.
Parks said, “I nearly fell off my chair,” when an e-mail arrived this year in June from Johnson inviting him to meet her at the banquet organized by Because I Care, an American charity that encourages people to become marrow and blood cell donors through Be The Match registry.
Johnson did get his original e-mail in 2008 but for whatever reason, he never got her reply.
Johnson, 54, said she lost her ability to try and contact him again when her computer crashed along with his e-mail address.
As the years went by, Johnson did wonder how Parks was doing. Then this year she was given the opportunity to ask him to attend the Because I Care banquet where each year a donor and recipient are chosen to meet.
“When I met him, it was just like long-lost family. Larry and (his wife) Enid are just wonderful people and I’m just so happy to be part of their lives now,” said Johnson who was reached by phone in the U.S. on Monday.
Johnson, a volunteer with Because I Care, said it’s just a wonderful feeling to know she was able to help.
“I don’t feel like I did anything special. I know God had his hand in this. He touched my family’s life and Larry’s life by having everything go well for him.
“It definitely was a miracle.”
Johnson signed up for the donor registry back in 1999 at a booth at a Longview street festival.
“I just had this feeling that God would use me one day to touch another person’s life,” said Johnson who is now retired from AT&T where she worked as a outside plant engineer.
One day in 2007, Johnson happened to hear how a co-worker’s family member had been an organ donor.
“I just casually mentioned to them that I signed up to be a possible bone marrow donor and never heard anything. It wasn’t two weeks later when I received a letter in the mail that said I was a potential match to someone. I was so excited. It was like — I should have said that years ago,” Johnson said with a laugh.
All she knew was a 52-year-old man in another country was in dire need of a transplant.
Following more tissue typing and matching she discovered she was a very good stem cell match.
After five days of injections to increase stem cells in her blood, she went to Dallas to give her donation which was rushed by helicopter to an airport and flown to Calgary.
Since his brush with death, Parks participates in the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, volunteers with Canadian Blood Services and mentors cancer patients through Cancer Connection.
And he is very grateful to Because I Care.
“If it wasn’t for groups like them, I wouldn’t be here,” Parks said.
Parks and his wife also had the opportunity to get to know Johnson and her husband Troy.
“We basically spent four days with them and you know what — we’re going to be life-long friends.”