In a heartwarming meeting this summer, Diane Baker of Massapequa Park finally had the chance to personally thank Andreas Gude, 31, from Germany. It was thanks to Mr. Gude’s generous donation of stem cells that Ms. Baker, the mother of two, was able to survive her ongoing battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, after receiving her transplant. The two have been communicating via email since her successful stem cell transplant at North Shore University Hospital (NSUH) in October 2008, but had never set eyes on each other until the ninth annual Celebration of Life Dinner of NSUH’s Don Monti Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation Program, held in June at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury. The event was a highlight for bone marrow and stem cell donors and recipients, family members, healthcare professionals and supporters.
Ms. Baker, formerly a banking executive in New York City, received her cancer diagnosis about three years ago. She was told that her only hope for a normal life would be a stem cell transplant. As her physician, Ruthee-Lu Bayer, MD, said, “Diane has been through a lot. At first, she originally had an auto transplant (she received her own bone marrow cells that had been collected and stored). When she suffered a recurrence, she then went through allogenic transplant (receiving a donor’s cells). As you can see, Diane is a fighter with a wonderful spirit.”
As her donor, Mr. Gude said he was thrilled to fly in from Neuenkirchen, Germany, to meet the woman whose life he saved. Even though the two have been communicating via email, Ms. Baker said, “I’m so happy to have the chance to thank Andreas in person.”
The Celebration of Life Dinner is an annual event hosted by the Monti family in honor of 16-year-old Don Monti, who died in June 1972 at NSUH of myeloblastic leukemia. Within days of his death, his parents, Tita and Joseph Monti, committed themselves to founding an organization in his memory, dedicated to the mission of finding a cure for cancer. They established The Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation at the hospital, and raised and contributed tens of millions of dollars over the years toward cancer research, education, fellowship and patient care. Today, the program is under the stewardship of Caroline Monti Saladino, whose parents began this vital work so many years ago.
Ms. Baker summed up the spirit of the reunion: “We have the same bone marrow, which means we are connected in a very special way. We are always going to stay in contact. This is my friend for life.”