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Survivor of three forms of blood cancer meets her marrow donor for the first time

May 29, 2024 by Gift of Life News

Cancer survivor Kristi Beckley (l) met the Gift of Life stem cell donor who saved her life, Avery Barth, at a private event in honor of Steven Bochco

Friends and family of famed television producer and writer Steven Bochco z”l gathered at a private residence in Los Angeles on May 1, 2024, to both celebrate his memory and to continue his legacy of helping others. Steven lost his battle with leukemia in April 2018, three years after receiving the incredible stem cell transplant that gave him extra time with his loved ones. 

The highlight of the event was the introduction of Kristi Beckley, a 48-year-old attorney, wife, and mother from Sacramento, Calif. to Avery Barth, the 28-year-old financial client services associate who saved her life. 

The pair were introduced by Dayna Bochco, who spoke about her late husband Steven’s transplant and his Gift of Life donor, Jon Kayne, and the impact of seeing in person the real results of offering support to Gift of Life.

Since the transplant, in partnership with the Bochco family and his stem cell donor, Gift of Life presents The Steven Bochco Award each year to a Gift of Life volunteer, donor, or recipient who has creatively used their vision, innovation and personal story to educate the public about the need for donors to join the registry and further Gift of Life’s mission. The award is presented at the One Huge Night Gala in Los Angeles.

“This moment means the world to me and my family,”  said Dayna. “No one knows better than we do how wonderful this moment is, when someone gets to meet the person who saved their life. We all give to many charities, but it’s rare that we get to see a direct connection to a life being saved because of a contribution we made.” 

Kristi spoke eloquently about learning her diagnosis, and her delight in meeting her donor, and the two held hands tightly during the entire introduction as they spoke to guests at the event.

“I wouldn’t be alive today if not for people like you who care,” said Kristi.  “I had just started my dream job when I got my diagnosis. I went to donate blood and, for the fifth time in a row, was rejected for being a bit anemic. The phlebotomist suggested I stop at my doctor’s office and get some tests done.”

This was invaluable advice. Kristi took her daughter in for a vaccine and stopped by the lab. She got the results late that Friday afternoon. Her husband was out of town, and her doctor’s office was closed, so naturally she started looking up blood test results on Google: it said she had cancer.

Several months later, she finally had a diagnosis of three life-threatening conditions: paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH), a rare, acquired blood disease; myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a disorder of malformed blood cells; and aplastic anemia, an inability of the bone marrow to create enough new blood cells.

“I won the lottery I did not intend to win,” said Kristi. A bone marrow transplant was her best hope of recovery, and fortunately, her match was found quickly in Gift of Life’s registry.

Avery had swabbed her cheek to join the registry while an undergraduate at the University of Southern California. A friend was running the donor recruitment table, and Avery stopped to show her support.  Six years later, she got that special call that she matched with a patient and could save a life.

Marrow donor Avery Barth is shown swabbing her cheek to join Gift of Life Marrow Registry at a donor recruitment drive on the USC campus in 2016.

Avery swabbing at the University of Southern California campus in September 2016.

“I had forgotten I joined the registry,” said Avery. “When you match someone, you’re going in almost blind because of the confidentiality. It’s a lot easier to give when you know the person or their family. I felt like I needed to be wholeheartedly unselfish about this, I had to submit to the process and acknowledge that someone had a need, and I could fulfill it. That’s what I did.” 

“The impact of donating is so much larger than I realized, it affects the entire community,” she added. “When I went into my manager to request time off, I said, ‘I’m flying to New York, and I’ll be donating bone marrow.’ My manager started crying, it was so unexpected! He said, ‘My mom got a bone marrow transplant last year, and we’re meeting her donor in six months. Of course you can have time off.’” 

As Kristi and Avery embraced again, event participants applauded, and Kristi made one last comment: “I tell everyone that  I got an upgrade when I got Avery’s bone marrow!” 

Avery is a resident of Santa Monica, Calif., where she is a Senior Client Service Associate at JP Morgan Wealth Management. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California, and she loves spending time with her friends on outdoor activities, including snowboarding,  pickleball, scuba diving, and exploring new places.

Kristi lives in Gold River, Calif., with her husband Mark and their two daughters. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and earned her Juris Doctorate from the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. She is the Assistant Chief Counsel at CalCycle. Kristi enjoys skiing, paddle boarding, kayaking, hiking, swimming, listening to audio books, and completing puzzles.