Payson resident Glenn Hale knew the first face-to-face meeting with the New York donor who saved his life would be a power-packed, emotional experience.
But even he didn't know just how poignant it would turn out.
"There are not words to describe it," he said. "We just looked at each other and hugged.
"I wanted to find some way to tell him how appreciative I was, but couldn't."
The meeting between the 66-year-old Hale and former New York City fireman Joe Kazlauskas, 32, took place Jan. 19 at the FDNY headquarters in Brooklyn.
In Sept. 2002, while Kazlauskas was serving with Ladder Company 144 in Whitestone, Queens, he joined the department's bone marrow registry.
When Hale, who had been diagnosed with chronic leukemia in 1991, was referred more than 10 years later to the City of Hope Transplant Center for a life-saving bone marrow transplant, Kazlauskas was found to be a match.
Hale received his transplant Jan. 12, 2004 at Banner Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix and says he now feels better than he has in six years.
As grateful as Hale was to Kazlauskas, the donor remained anonymous because National Marrow Donor Registry policy does not allow meetings between donors and recipients to occur until one year after a transplant.
"I guess that year's wait is part of what makes the first meeting so emotional," he said. "I wondered for a long time what my donor was like.
"He was just a regular old Joe doing his part. I am not sure when he agreed (to donate), he knew he would be saving a life."
At the "Honor Roll of Life" ceremony where Hale met Kazlauskas, the Payson man learned that more than 70 members of the FDNY have donated their bone marrow to strangers in need.
During the ceremony, Kazlauskas' name was added to the Honor Roll of Life plaques, which featured the names of all FDNY bone marrow donors, some of whom were noted as "Lost in the Line of Duty on 9/11/01."
Finding a match
Until Kazlauskas was found, doctors struggled to find a donor for Hale.
After unsuccessful tests for a match among Hale's four siblings, including his twin sister, doctors turned to the National Marrow Donor Registry. Four months later, Kazlauskas was found to be a match.
Hale's battle against chronic lymphocytic leukemia began with oral treatments, which continued for about 10 years.
He explains that with CLL, as time wears on, the body becomes immune to medications, and dosages must be increased.
"Eventually I had to go into chemotherapy," he said.
Hale began chemo in 1998 and experienced varying bouts of success and failure with the treatment.
"After you fail a bunch of tests, then you are eligible for the (bone marrow) transplant," Hale said.
Because Hale's leukemia had spread to 95 percent of his lymph nodes, he had to undergo what is called in medical jargon an "allogeneic stem cell transplant," -- meaning a donor whose tissue types matched Hale's had to be found.
With the transplant goes the risk of graft-versus-host infections, for which Hale now takes suppressants and steroids.
"We have to balance the medications (to prevent infections), but I'm doing well," he said.
Since the transplant, Hale's leukemia has been in remission.
Recent tests show that 90 percent of his bone marrow is Kazlauskas', which Hale calls "phenomenal and a medical miracle."
Praise for donor program, doctors
Those who know Glenn Hale understand he is a modest man who shies from attention.
Few know he was formerly a CIA agent, a U.S. Forest Service smoke jumper and has a BS degree from the University of Arizona. He is also a Vietnam War veteran, private pilot and holds a master parachute rigger's license.
But Hale praises the City of Hope, Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center, the national donor program and the FDNY's drive to provide life-saving bone marrow.
In fact, Hale would not agree to any of the publicity he's received, including this story, unless information about registering to become a donor were included.
A person of any race, ethnicity or gender who is 18 to 60 (up until 61st birthday) years of age and who meets donation health guidelines can become a potential volunteer donor.
Before joining the National Marrow Donor Program, volunteers should log on to www.marrow.org to learn about commitments involved and the steps in donating.
After joining the NMDP, volunteers are eligible to help the more than 35,000 children and adults in the United States who are diagnosed each year with diseases for which marrow or blood cell transplants could be a cure.
Those patients and their doctors usually turn to the NMDP for help with the search for a match and for support through every step of the transplant journey.
A transplant requires matching tissue types between patient and donor. Although those tissue types are often inherited, 70 percent of patients do not have a donor match in their family.