Ashland man meets life-saving stem cell donor from Germany
PLYMOUTH - Late Wednesday afternoon at a bus stop in Plymouth, 24-year-old Korey Pierce of Ashland met his best friend for the first time.
Fabian Kaempf, 23, of Muenster, Germany is not only Pierce's best friend, he saved his life by donating a stem cell that successfully treated an autoimmune disease called aplastic anemia that had been crippling Pierce since he was diagnosed in 2007.
Pierce, an Ashland firefighter, sought treatment when cuts on his body didn't heal.
"The disease left me without an immune system," Pierce said. "It likely would have killed me."
He was initially treated for the often-fatal disease with steroids and other drugs. Those drugs were administered at high doses, leaving him in need of a replacement shoulder and hip. So after a year of that treatment, his doctors at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center chose to look at another treatment, a bone marrow transplant.
That's when he met Michael Guglielmo, who has been a donor recruiter for Delete Blood Cancer DKMS, which has 3 million registered bone marrow donors worldwide, and is the largest bone marrow donor center in the world.
Guglielmo is the father of baby Giovanni Guglielmo, who died last year of a genetic immune disorder at the age of 5.
A search for bone marrow donors that would match Pierce in the United States proved fruitless. But DKMS found a match in Germany with Kaempf. Doctors at Dartmouth-Hitchcock performed the surgery in 2009, and since then, Pierce has done well.
"His test numbers are looking good, and the hope is that over time he continues to improve," said Dr. John Hill. "Basically we've replaced one person's bone cells with another one's."
Pierce said his health has been much better, so much so that he's about to make a big commitment - this weekend, he will marry his girlfriend, Amy Arbour, 31, who was a nurse at the hospital when Pierce was recovering from his treatment.
Guglielmo said it's very rare for donors and matches to meet, but Pierce was given his donor's name and they started talking on Facebook a few years ago. Since then, they've become good friends.
"I talk to him more than I do any of my other friends," Pierce said.
Pierce invited Kaempf, who had become a donor after a relative died of Leukemia, to his wedding Saturday. And Wednesday, they met and hugged for the first time.
"They've developed quite a friendship over the years, and he saved Korey's life. We had to have him here," said Arbour.
Kaempf was given an honorary plaque from Gov. Maggie Hassan for his life-saving donation, and the hospital gave him a Tom Brady football jersey, as he has become a New England Patriots fan since knowing Pierce.
"I am very glad to be giving someone life," Kaempf said. "This is such an honor."
Hugging Kaempf, Pierce said, "I don't care if we've never met before, he's like a brother to me."
Guglielmo said more donors are needed, and becoming a donor is very easy, he said. For more information, go to www.deletebloodcancer.org.