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Bone marrow donor and recipient meet for the first time

Donor Marco Busen celebrates with his bone marrow recipient John Wolf and Mrs. Caroline Monti Saladino.
Donor Marco Busen (left) celebrates with his bone marrow recipient John Wolf and Caroline Monti Saladino.

Marco Busen's bone marrow donation three years ago helped John Wolf survive myelodysplastic leukemia (MPS)


In a heartwarming meeting, John Wolf, 78, of Richmond Hills, NY, finally had the chance to personally thank Marco Busen, a 29-year-old businessman from Wittenborn, Germany, for the bone marrow donation that helped Mr. Wolf survive his ongoing battle with myelodysplastic leukemia (MPS).

The two have only communicated by mail since the successful bone marrow transplant at North Shore University Hospital that took place in May 2016, but had never set eyes on each other until Tuesday evening at the 17th annual Don Monti Bone Marrow Transplant Unit Celebration of Life Dinner, held at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury. The annual dinner is underwritten by the Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation.

Mr. Wolf, who is looking forward to celebrating his 53rd wedding anniversary later this month, said he was frightened when he learned he had MPS, characterized as being a group of diverse bone marrow disorders in which the bone marrow does not produce enough healthy blood cells.

“It was very frightening to hear that diagnosis,” said Mr. Wolf. “But today is just surreal. I’m so glad to have the opportunity to meet my donor. I know I wouldn’t be sitting here today without him.”

Looking at his young donor, Mr. Wolf said, “I know you’re too young for me to call you my blood brother, but I can definitely call you my blood grandson. And, by the way, I have socks older than you.”

Mr. Busen said the entire experience still strikes him as a bit surreal, but he is thrilled that his bone marrow was able to save a life. “If I had to do it again, I most certainly would,” said Mr. Busen, who was born on Christmas Day. “It’s the greatest gift you can give to anyone — the gift of life.”

Ruthee-Lu Bayer, MD, an oncologist who directs the Northwell Health Cancer Institute’s bone marrow and stem cell transplantation program, served as Mr. Wolf’s physician during his treatment. “It’s always such a thrill for us to see how a bone marrow transplant can give a person a second chance at life. And what a wonderful thing for Marco to have done to become a hero to someone he’d never met,” she said. “I truly believe that both lives are changed forever when a bone marrow transplant takes place.”

A Celebration of Life

The Celebration of Life Dinner is a yearly highlight for bone marrow donors and recipients, family members, healthcare professionals and supporters.

The Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation has been major supports of North Shore University Hospital (NSUH) and the Northwell Health Cancer Institute for 47 years. In June 1972, 16-year-old Don Monti died at NSUH of myeloblastic leukemia. Within days of his death, his parents, Tita and Joseph Monti, committed themselves to founding an organization in his memory, dedicated to the mission of finding a cure for cancer. They established the Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation at the hospital, and raised and contributed tens of millions of dollars over the next five decades toward cancer research, education, fellowship and patient care.

Today, the foundation is under the stewardship of Caroline Monti Saladino and her brother Richard Monti, whose parents began this vital work so many years ago.

“We have the same bone marrow now, which means we are connected in a very special way,” is how Mr. Wolf summed up the importance of the event. “I hope that he comes to visit us from time to time…we’re family now."

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