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Digging Deep column: May we all find our hidden paths

My friend, Dr. Steve Larigakis, sent this photo (right) with a single word: “Sisters.” It was last Friday, after his keynote talk for the 2016 Canadian Society of Transfusion Medicine Conference in Vancouver. He’s hugging his sisters of two kinds.
Wright
Surrey Dr. Steve Larigakis embraces his ‘sisters,’ Michelle (right) and stem cell donor Katie Karker whom he had not met before requiring a bone marrow transplant to treat a rare cancer.

My friend, Dr. Steve Larigakis, sent this photo (right) with a single word: “Sisters.”

It was last Friday, after his keynote talk for the 2016 Canadian Society of Transfusion Medicine Conference in Vancouver. He’s hugging his sisters of two kinds.

Exactly five years earlier, he was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive lymphoma at a late stage. It was soon clear he needed a stem cell transplant.

From the time of that diagnosis, Steve has shared the story, so his many friends and well-wishers can have a part. It’s in Dr. Steve’s Blog, still online and full of ups and downs and truly never-say-die cooperation.

Michelle, in Steve’s left arm, is his sibling, always ready to listen or help. Siblings often make good transplant donors, and she tested for it but didn’t match.

Then, she helped with a huge donor drive, including many Greeks, their ethnic group, somewhat likely to be matches.

No such luck.

Even in Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide, a registry with more than 17 million donors at the time, no one fully matched. But there was one near-match.

Katie Karker, in Steve’s right arm, lives in the village of Kingsley in northern Michigan. As the near-match, she gladly went to a lot of trouble to donate the needed stem cells for an unknown recipient. She saved his life.

Early on, the donor drive had got me back to giving blood. A year after Steve began his life anew, I went to his “re-birthday celebration.” He called me his mentor, so perhaps I’m a good influence, too.

Recently, I helped Steve refine his talk for the transfusion conference.

Minor roles like mine add up, and anyone can have a key effect. During his recovery, Steve had a further brush with death when donor cells attacked host cells, and it was a pharmacist who came across a therapy that worked.

As I reflect, it strikes me as earned luck. It’s the sort of thing that happens when unselfish people focus on a goal and roll up their sleeves to do what needs to be done.

That has paid off with Steve’s return to health and a visionary role in family medicine. As well, the success energizes everyone who cares, and it motivates me to keep using simple means that get results.

At the conference, Steve’s words and slides relived his journey with cancer. Near the end, he introduced Katie, his “blood sister.”

Standing ovation.

He’d never met Katie till last week, but she’s become family and a star.

There was even a feature article on the front page of the Vancouver Sun. (Just google blood sister stem cells.)

Adding a new adult sister is rare, but aiming together for values — as so many did for Steve’s recovery — lets us see hidden paths to our goals.

Jim Wright is president of the Garden City Conservation Society.

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