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Mason City native meets stem cell donor

January 21, 2011

By CALLIE & KRISTA COX

Ken Cox, formerly of Mason City, received an early Christmas gift this year. It wasn’t a new car, and it wasn’t a cruise vacation. It was a visit from a very special guest, the man who saved his life. Torbin Kliche, Cox’s stem-cell donor from Heyen, Germany, joined the Cox family on Thanksgiving weekend to meet the family he gave the greatest gift of all—Life!
Ken Cox is the son of the former Kenneth and Lucille Cox, long-time residents of Mason City. Ken graduated from Mason City High School in 1961 and attended Kearney State College (now UNK). He taught science in Broken Bow (1966-1969), McCook, Cody, Beaver City, and Southern Valley.
Cox retired from teaching and now lives in Stamford. He and his wife Sheryl have three sons and three grandchildren. His siblings, Michael and Erwin Cox both live in Kearney, Nebraska. He is the nephew of Joan Cox of Mason City.
In May of 2005, Ken Cox, who was suffering from leukemia, was informed a stem cell donor had been located, but because of donor/recipient regulations, it would be two years before Cox found out his donor was German.
Kliche chose to become a donor when a fellow band member contracted leukemia. The people of Heyen, a town of about 600, decided to conduct a stem cell search for their fellow townsperson, and they challenged everyone to become a stem cell donor.
The National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) in the United States is linked to a global network of hospitals and donor centers. Kliche’s stem cell information was entered into this global system in 2004, and a year later it saved Cox’s life.
“I didn’t realize the transplant team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) had already started searching for a [stem cell] match when I found out my leukemia had returned,” Cox said. Cox’s wife Sheryl remembers the very moment her worries started to vanish.
“The nurses came to me and said not to worry, because Ken had a 10 for 10 match,” she said.
The hope in those words kept the Coxes going. The beginning thread of this hope started when Kliche received a letter from the marrow registry in Germany. The letter asked him if he was still interested in giving stem cells. Kliche replied with a simple answer.
“Of course, that’s why I’m here,” he said.
To prepare for the harvesting of the cells, Kliche was given hormone injections for two weeks.
“The place and time, everything was perfect [to donate],” Kliche said. This was because he lived in Hanover, Germany, and was just a few blocks from one of only two hospitals in Germany that harvest stem cells.
Cox’s Christmas came on May 5, 2005. Torbin Kliche’s stem cells arrived in Omaha by plane and within hours, they were transfused into Cox.
“The best part of my job is the hope I see when patients receive a transplant,” said Susan Kruse, Cox’s case nurse at UNMC.
Kruse added that the NMDP always needs donors, especially minority and mixed ethnicity donors. She believes that everyone should consider being the “hope” for another by becoming a donor.
Transplant recipients and donors must wait two years in the United States before they can attempt to locate each other. Kliche sent a letter to Cox first.
“It was amazing to receive Torbin’s letter,” Cox said. “I was shocked he would even want to get in contact.”
The opportunity to meet face to face came this fall when Cox learned Kliche would be studying civil engineering for a semester at Tennessee State University in Nashville.
Kliche accepted an invitation from the Coxes to visit during Thanksgiving.
“It is completely different, but I have no comparisons,” Kliche said of Thanksgiving in the United States. He was quick to add, “I kindof like it.”
Stem cells from Torbin Kliche of Heyen, Germany were gifts of life and hope for Ken Cox. Meeting his donor was Cox’s dream gift. Both Cox and Kliche plan to continue their correspondence, and they hope their story may inspire people to become stem cell donors.
Story first published in Harlan County Journal, December 23, 2010, and reprinted in the Custer County Chief by request of the family.

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