Houston woman meets live-saving donor in emotional reunion

A Houston woman gets to meet up with the man who helped save her life from a rare form of blood cancer. Their emotional reunion is a reminder that signing up on the Gift of Life Marrow Registry is the first step to literally saving lives.

 The Gift of Life organization captured the precious moment Joane Straka from Houston met her once anonymous stem cell donor, Ken Soloway at the Gift of Life's annual walk near his home in Florida. Rules are in place for them to wait at least a year to meet, and they were both ready and excited about it!

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"Just to give him a hug was wonderful and to thank him in person and for him to meet my family and for him to really grasp the huge thing that he did for all of us," says a smiling Joane. "It was very special and immediately all of our families connected. Then after the walk, we hung out a whole lot of hours until early evening, which was awesome," states Ken.

Joane's first warning sign of blood cancer happened during routine bloodwork. 

"Two of my values came back just a little weird, but no other symptoms. So, I was followed with a doctor in the Houston area, and for about two and a half years, nothing ever really changed with my lab work. I really developed no symptoms, so he basically told me that he thought I was fine and dismissed me from his care. My husband didn't like that answer," explains Joane. 

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As a nurse practitioner, she agreed and sought a second opinion at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. 

"They were the ones who diagnosed this very rare T-Cell lymphoma," says Joane. Then she found out her only way to survive was to find the perfect match for stem cells. It wouldn’t work for her to donate her own and her brother and daughters were only a half match. 

"That was incredibly stressful because it's completely out of your hands at that point and you are depending on a perfect stranger, who when they get this call says, 'Sure, I'll do this for somebody I don't know. I'll take time out of my busy life and do this,'" says Joane.


That's when Ken, a 39-year-old Marine veteran jumped at the opportunity. He had registered his DNA at a fair in Florida to the Gift of Life, having no idea that decision would ultimately save a woman's life in Texas. 

"I received a call in December of 2022, saying that I'm a potential match for someone and we're from Gift of Life and my first question is, who are you again? I didn't even remember the organization," recalls Ken. 

They refreshed his memory and he agreed to more testing to find out if he truly was a perfect match. He was! Now Joane's entire family is celebrating how his generous donation and the quality care she received at MD Anderson sent her into remission!

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 "I feel great! I've gotten back to where I was prior to all this happening and it's all because of Ken. I mean, really, he's my savior," says a thankful Joane.

"It seems critical that anyone who's able should register, should be encouraged to, and if you get the call, should step up," says Ken. 

Both Joane and Ken encourage others now to give the gift of life! You can join that all-important registry list!

You can get on the registry list by clicking here.