When Jonathan Franco, 30, received a diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), he knew everything would change. He just didn’t know it would be for the better.
Due to his MDS (formerly known as pre-leukemia), “Jonathan’s bone marrow produced bad blood cells,” says his oncologist, Ruthee-Lu Bayer, MD, of the Lake Success, N.Y.-based Monter Cancer Center, part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System. A bone marrow transplant was his only hope for a normal life, and Dr. Bayer’s team searched for a long time to find him a match.
After a two-year battle with the disease, the Woodside, Queens, resident was the happy recipient of a bone marrow donation from Chicago’s Diana Delgado, 39. His wife, Leydi, was then in her fifth month of pregnancy. Soon after the bone-marrow transplant, the Francos’ son was born. They named him Jonathan Maximum. “We named him after me, because Jonathan means ‘beloved of God,’” says Mr. Franco. “Maximum means ‘the greatest,’ and to us, given my health, our son is truly the greatest miracle.”
Ms. Delgado’s selfless act not only led to Mr. Franco’s welcoming a new son into the world, but also a recent face-to-face donor/recipient meeting. The occasion was the Eighth Annual Celebration of Life dinner of North Shore University Hospital’s Don Monti Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation Program. The Crest Hollow Country club event is a highlight for bone marrow donors and recipients, family members, health care professionals and supporters.
In June 1972, 16-year-old Don Monti died at North Shore University Hospital of myeloblastic leukemia. His parents, the late Tita and Joseph Monti, immediately committed to founding an organization in his memory. They established The Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation at the hospital, and raised and contributed tens of millions of dollars over the years toward cancer research, education, fellowship and patient care.
Today, the program is under the stewardship of Caroline Monti Saladino, whose parents began this vital work so many years ago. As she watched Mr. Franco and Ms. Delgado embrace and chat quietly, Mrs. Saladino remarked that she strongly felt the presence of her mother and father.
Mr. Franco summed up the spirit of the reunion in just a few words. “We have the same bone marrow. She is going to be like a sister to me. We are always going to stay in contact. Now I can be a father to my son. This is great.”