Local man to meet life-saving donor

Tony Parra

For Kevin Gardels one question has been lingering in his mind. What do you say to the person who gave you life?
Friday in Los Angeles, Gardels plans to meet the woman who donated her bone marrow to Gardels for a life-saving transplant.
“I’ve been thinking about it,” Gardels said. “The day we found out she was an exact match, I wanted to find her and hug her. I’m not sure what to say to her. I can’t express in words how grateful I am.”
Gardels was diagnosed with myelofibrosis, a rare cancer over a year and a half ago.
“I’m kind of scared,” Gardels said about meeting her for the first time. “I’m not really sure why that is. I’m looking forward to it. It’s kind of intimating meeting the person who gave you life. Hopefully when we meet I can tell her how grateful I am.”
The bone marrow transplant took place on March 25, 2003 at the City of Hope Cancer Center in Los Angeles.
“The doctors told him happy birthday on that date,” said Maggie Gardels, Kevin’s wife. “They told him he was getting a new life.”
Kevin said that all he knows about the donor is that she’s a 22-year-old European woman. Kevin said his family will leave from Lubbock to Los Angeles on Wednesday and he is scheduled to meet with his doctor on Thursday. He hopes to have his catheter removed.
There will be a banquet for 400 people, made up of recipients and donor at the hospital on Friday, according to Kevin. They will get a chance to meet during the banquet. He said the banquet will be the highlight of his trip.
Kevin will get to go with Maggie, his wife of 27 years, and his two children, Jeremy and Savannah.
Kevin said he enjoys playing the guitar and he recently released an album with his band entitled God’s Hands, which hit the stores on Friday.
Kevin’s body was hit hard with the effects of myelofibrosis. He lost 140 pounds and needed a breathing mask at times. According to Kevin, he has gained 40 pounds since the successful operation and his blood level is up to 10 from a level of six. He said a healthy human being has a blood level of 14.
“The bone marrow stopped making blood,” Kevin said about his condition before the surgery. “Since the operation, my body’s been able to regenerate bone marrow. Over the last 10 months my bone marrow has been able to regenerate a blood level of 10.”
Maggie said she would also like to give the donor a hug for giving her husband an opportunity for new life.
“I have certain feelings,” Maggie said. “I’m excited for him. I’m wondering who she is. Most people her age wouldn’t think to (donate).”
Maggie said it bothered her not to be able to help her husband when they were looking for an exact match. The doctors said that her background and ethnicity must be taken into account when finding an exact match — Maggie is Hispanic, while Kevin is of German descent.
She said the two months before the operation she spent by his side were tough on her. She said she went back to the hospital in Los Angeles with Kevin and their daughter in September.
“I was without my daughter (now a fifth-grader at Valencia) during the operation and it was tough,” Maggie said. “I know where everything is in that hospital. I know every corner of it. When we went back (in September) I was walking into the (cancer) unit when I froze. I couldn’t walk.”
Maggie said she saw other cancer patients in the hospital and she made friends with mothers and grandmothers who had loved ones going through the same ordeal.
“I met one mother, whose 50-year-old daughter died,” Maggie said. “She told me, ‘Maggie, I don’t know what I’m going to do.’”
Maggie said the lady left, shortly thereafter, but not before she left Maggie with a present.
“She left me an angel of hope,” Maggie said. “Even though she had gone through her daughter’s death, she still had hope for others. I praise god every day for the donor.”