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Police officer who survived leukemia meets the stem cell donor who helped save his life

May 01, 2024 by Gift of Life News

Kenneth “Kenny” Williams served with the Blackfoot Police Department in Idaho for seven years but missed 13 months of work after being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in March 2022. After receiving a blood stem cell transplant from his matching Gift of Life donor, Banks Lomel, he has now returned to work. 

The two men met in person for the first time at a pickleball tournament sponsored by the Miami Beach Police Department (MBPD) on April 11, 2024.  Donors and recipients must remain anonymous for the first year after transplant under federal regulations, so the long wait makes these introductions highly anticipated events.

Banks, 22, and Kenny, 34, were introduced by Officer Christopher Bess of the MBPD, who also shared the pair’s stories with the tournament participants and guests.

Kenny was bothered by back pain in early 2022 but thought it might be job-related. After several tests by his doctor, he was surprised to be diagnosed with leukemia and learned he would need a blood stem cell or marrow transplant to help him recover.

Although he could not work during his illness, the Blackfoot Police Department stepped up to raise money for Kenny and his wife Carrie, to get them through this health crisis.

“I learned from the doctors I had several good matches, but after the first few backed out of donating, I was becoming discouraged,” said Kenny, who did not have a match within his family.  “Fortunately, they found Banks pretty fast.” 

In April 2024, at the Gift of Life-Miami Beach Police Department pickleball tournament, a Blackfoot, Idaho police officer Kenneth Williams was introduced to his stem cell transplant donor Banks Lomel. The pair are standing in front of a Gift of Life photo backdrop with Miami Beach Police Chief Wayne A. Jones on the left, Kenneth in an orange "Life Saved" tee shirt in the center, and Banks in a turquoise "Life Given" shirt on the right.

L-R: Miami Beach Police Chief Wayne A. Jones, transplant recipient Kenny Willilams, and stem cell donor Banks Lomel.

Banks joined the registry in 2020 while an undergraduate at the University of Florida, where he played on the UF lacrosse team. Lacrosse teams across the country work with Gift of Life every year to swab their players in memory of Saxton Dunlap, an 18-year-old lacrosse player who did not have a donor and lost his battle with lymphoma. 

“I joined the registry because as a college student I knew I would be able to fit donating into my schedule if I got a match,” said Banks. “I volunteered for about 1,000 hours at the Children’s Cancer Center in Tampa, so I know how cancer affects families.” 

Banks was at the gas station when he got the call from Gift of Life and was so excited about donating, he immediately called his mother to tell her.

“I was hopeful I would get through the screening process, as I know only a pretty small percentage of people actually get to donate,” he said.  

Fast forward two years and not only was the transplant a success, but Kenny is also in good health now and has returned to work and was thrilled to meet Banks in person.

“I am grateful for Banks and feel blessed I was able to get matched with him,” said Kenny. “You never know when your life will change for the better or worse. Always cherish what you have and live in the moment.” 

“It was great to meet Kenny and his wife, and I’m very grateful I had the opportunity to help him,” said Banks.  “Also, my parents are very proud of me, and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to donate. I recommend that anyone and everyone who can join the registry. It is worth it.”

Kenny is married to Carrie, and they live in Chubbuck, Idaho with their two young children. He has been a police office for nine years. He received his Law Enforcement Certification from Idaho State University and is a member of the Fraternal Order of Police.  Kenny and his family enjoy spending time outdoors, and he likes fishing and hunting in his spare time.

Banks lives in Gainesville, Fla., and is currently studying for his master’s degree in biomedical engineering at the University of Florida, where he was a member of the lacrosse team as an undergraduate. He enjoys rock climbing.