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Blood cancer survivor surprised by donor, survivors celebrate second chance at life

Friday was the 21st annual Partners in Hope Reunion
Cancer Blood Test
Posted at 12:56 PM, May 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-16 12:56:38-04

WEST CHESTER, Ohio  — The Jewish Hospital Mercy Health honored blood cancer survivors Friday at its 21st annual Partners in Hope Reunion. It allows survivors, donors and doctors to celebrate their journey and second chance at life.

"It would be a very different story without him," Lori Ponder said.

Ponder said she loves Cincinnati, but she can't help but have wanderlust. Whether it's taking a cruise or flying to Europe, Ponder knows life is precious and it's meant to be enjoyed. But that was before the pandemic.

"The four of us went to Europe in 2019. That was the last big trip before COVID hit," she said.

In the fall of 2020, what started as a visit to a new primary care physician turned into a scary diagnosis.

"He did routine blood work and he wasn't happy with how it looked," Ponder said. "When those results came back, I was diagnosed with MDS or myelodysplastic syndrome."

MDS is a possible side-effect of the treatment Lori received in 2003 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. MDS also puts her at high risk for developing Leukemia.

But the effort to save her life didn't start when she was diagnosed with MDS in November, it started four years ago.

"I was actually at a work meeting and we had this guest speaker come in and they're like, 'Is anybody interested in being a bone marrow donor,'" Tyler Samoska said.

It took Samoska two years, but he eventually signed up for the "Be The Match" bone marrow database. Then, he waited.

"I was like, 'Oh, I registered again. Maybe they'll get to me this time,'" he said.

Then another year passed and he almost missed the call to be a donor.

"I got a few phone calls. I was like, 'I don't, I don't recognize this phone call.' So I didn't answer it," Samoska said. "I listened to the voicemail and it was actually the Be The Match."

From Lori's diagnosis to Be The Match identifying Tyler to bone marrow transplant took three months, which Ponder told us was relatively quick.

In January, Samoska flew to a California hospital for surgery.

"We did the procedure and it was four very small incisions that was covered by a band-aid," he said.

And not too long after, Lori got her bone marrow transplant.

"How can you ever thank someone who they don't know who you are," Ponder said. "They don't know who they're doing this for and they saved your life."

Transplant rules don't allow the donor or survivor to exchange information until a year later. When 2022 rolled around, Ponder asked the transplant coordinator for the hospital to get in touch with Samoska.

The two emailed back and forth on when would be a good time to visit. Ponder thought maybe this fall would work out.

"I would really like to meet him and his wife to be able to say personally, you know, thank you for what he did," she said.

The Jewish Hospital decided to shorten that timeline.

"The organization has reached out and said, 'Hey, we want to surprise Lori and have you meet her,'" Samoska said. "I was like, 'let's freaking do it.'"

On Friday night at the Partners in Hope Reunion, Samoska made a surprise appearance to meet Ponder in person.

To register for Be The Match click HERE.

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