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At the Gift of Life Gala in Beverly Hills, Tony Wolfe met the man who saved him from afar. A Pennsylvania Department of Corrections veteran, last year Wolfe learned he had leukemia, the same disease that killed his 12-year-old son. Alan Weinberg, a Queens, New York man found via the namesake non-profit’s bone marrow and stem cell registry, donated stem cells that proved vital to Wolfe’s cancer fight. Introducing the pair Monday night was none other then Kim Kardashian West.
West became familiar with the organization in fall 2016, through best friend Allison Statter. Statter and Adam Krief’s sons were classmates when Krief was diagnosed with his own form of blood cancer, myelofibrosis, which required a bone marrow transplant.
“Once I heard his story, I just knew that I wanted to do something,” West told 200 guests at the SLS Hotel, accepting the Gift of Life’s inaugural Impact Award from Krief’s widow, Lia Mantel Krief. “For me, a simple tweet or something that I can put up that would change someone’s life, that’s the easiest thing that I can possibly do. I mean, I would do it a million times over.”
On September 26, 2016, Kardashian West posted four tweets and other social media content about Krief’s plight, urging her millions of followers to visit the Hope 4 Adam campaign homepage. Visitors were instructed to collect DNA from the inside of their cheeks with simple buccal swabs.
Gift of Life founder and CEO, and leukemia survivor, Jay Feinberg told The Hollywood Reporter that only about one in every thousand people are bone marrow matches. Fifty thousand people will swab this year, and Gift of Life has helped make 3,300-plus transplants happen. Each kit costs $60 to process, hence the need for constant fundraising.
“To our deep sadness, we found out that minorities, for the most part, are largely underrepresented on the registry,” recalled Mantel Krief, whose husband was of Moroccan heritage. Yet thanks to awareness raised by Kardashian West, Krief did match with a donor, although his body ultimately rejected the transplant. The father of three died in March 2017. He was 32.
During her speech, Kardashian West said she was “just so overwhelmed and inspired by 10,000 people that joined the registry” as a result of her calls to help Krief. “I joined myself because my cousin Cici — whose battled cancer for 18 years — kind of had a similar problem: Armenian descent and not a big list of candidates for her. So me and my family, we joined the registry, and you never know when someone close to you can really need it, and you never know when you can just save someone’s life.”
Feinberg’s mission to register potential donors began in the early ’90s. Over the course of four years, 55,000 people were tested before an appropriate bone marrow donor was discovered.
Since 2000, Gift of Life has been hosting New York City galas, and they now hope to continue the “One Huge Night” tradition on the West Coast.
A second honor, the Steven Bochco Award, was given to a donor who defied a historic Kentucky snowstorm to start his donation process. The award is named after the 10-time Emmy winner behind Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and NYPD Blue who died of leukemia complications in April.
Bochco’s widow, Dayna Kalins, presented the hardware, alongside Jon Kayne, the tech startup employee who made Bochco’s bone marrow transplant possible. “We owe the last three wonderful years of Steven’s life and my life with him to Jon and the Gift of Life.”
The late writer was also celebrated in a video tribute featuring Blair Underwood, Jimmy Smits, Dennis Franz, Steven Spielberg and Bob Iger.
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