Stem cell transplant saves dad with recurring cancer

November 1, 2012 5:01:49 PM PDT
A father in Sugar Land stared down cancer three different times. The last time he needed a critical stem-cell transplant to save his life. But, many cancer patients don't get that chance.

To Kenneth and Clara Woo, it seemed like every time they were happy about the birth of a baby, Kenneth got cancer. The first time, their oldest child was a month old. Clara was taking care of her, but it was Kenneth who was out of energy.

"So she said Kenneth, what's going on? You don't help. You don't want to help?" Kenneth said.

The architect had a grapefruit-sized tumor near his aorta. Kenneth survived, but two years later, just weeks before their second child was born, he was diagnosed with cancer again!

"So it was quite hard on both of us because I cannot hold my baby but she has to take care of three babies -- my older one, the younger one and me," Kenneth said.

Treatment for the second cancer was tougher. But he recovered, only to develop a third cancer -- leukemia, caused by treatments for the first cancers.

"We were kinda discouraged and scared because we know he may be dying any day," Clare said.

But Kenneth is alive nine years later because his sister gave him stem cells. Her matching cells allowed doctors at MD Anderson to blast his cancer with high dose drugs then build him back up with her cells.

"I got my camera all ready and expect it to be a long time but it really only takes 30 minutes and it's a little bag," Clara said.

Here at the largest cancer center in the world, one in four patients who need a stem cell transplant go without because they don't have a match. But if volunteers could fill these beds and donate stem cells, lives could be saved.

Kenneth and Clara have watched others die, waiting for a match.

"We knew that we were really blessed to be able to find a match, and not everyone was able to do that," Clara said.

With the help of Houstonians, they hope that will change.

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