In Recognition of our Patients

February 07

John Spinnato
John Spinnato is the CEO of DKMS US. Driven by his passion to the DKMS mission to help every patient with a blood cancer and disorder find a matching bone marrow or stem cell donor, John shares his thoughts on the issues and topics that most impact DKMS.
It was an honor for me to meet Earl Young, a transplant recipient who has helped DKMS register 15,705 people. Forty-six of those have gone on to be donors. He won the Olympic gold medal in the 4x400 meter relay in 1960.

I was in Dallas a few weeks ago for a swab drive and to connect with local donors, patients, and partners. There I encountered one of the most lively patients I’ve met—a woman in her 70’s. Ordinarily above the age range for receiving a transplant, doctors approved the procedure due to her extraordinary health (I’m told she is an avid walker). The most bright-eyed and energetic person in the room, the only sign that she was fighting cancer was hair loss. Her enthusiasm for finding donors for fellow patients fostered a sense of human connection and hope.

This encounter reminded me of an equally impactful patient meeting on the other side of the world—a young Polish man who was diagnosed with blood cancer on the horizon of his career. His donor was German, and he recognized the personal and cultural healing symbolized by their unique bond. His perspective represented how our work develops connections that transcend cultural and geographical boundaries.

I share these stories because the vivacity and perspective of our patients is our inspiration at DKMS. Only patients fully understand the implications of life with a complex disease; our job is to listen and continually seek novel solutions given their everyday experience. Patient Recognition Week is a fitting time to consider how we are doing so.

Patients approach DKMS when they do not have a compatible match in their family. If there is not a match in our existing registry, the mechanism of finding one is a swab drive. As was the case in Dallas, these drives are powerful way for an entire community to seek a common goal: saving a life that is often a personal connection.

Drives have previously required participants to be in a given place at a given time. We’ve made them more accessible by developing virtual versions, which allow hoststo set up online pages through which acquaintances can directly sign up to be a bone marrow donor. Such technological improvements have expanded our registry so that there are increased immediate chances for patients to find a match.

Long-term improvements to the patient experience require a more nuanced understanding of blood cancer treatments, addressed by the lesser-known research side of DKMS. Our laboratories in Dresden, Germany host experts who conduct research with state-of the art technology, and we involve young scientists with innovative ideas through the annual John Hansen Research Grant. My vision is for our organization to broadly communicate this information to create awareness and promote engagement in the medical community.

In leadership, the key to achieving realistic solutions is the ability to listen. In light ofPatient Recognition Week, thank you to our patients for demonstrating the value of life and teaching us how to fight for it.