"We're One Big Family:" Coming Together to Help Dr. Danny Kim Find a Match
Cook Children’s community rushes to help pediatrician in need of urgent transplant
To join the Be The Match donor registry, complete the digital form here or text Swab4Kim to 61474. Then, order your swab kit for free online or give samples at any donor registration drive.
Join the donor registry if you are:
• 18-40 years old
• In good health
• Willing to donate to any patient in need
By Kaley Johnson
When Cook Children’s learned one of their own was in need, the community wasted no time in answering the call to help.
In early November, leadership at Cook Children’s learned that pediatrician Danny Kim, M.D., urgently needed a blood stem cell transplant after being diagnosed with severe leukemia.
One week later, volunteers lined up at Be The Match events at Cook Children's Medical Center-Fort Worth and Cook Children's Medical Center-Prosper to potentially save the life of Dr. Kim or another person.
“It took about five seconds for everybody to volunteer,” Matthew Dzurik, M.D., President of the Physician Network, said. "Kudos to everybody in the team who has done just a great job and to all the volunteers who have come to take a swab. It just shows how much we care about our community here. Like always, we are doing it the Cook Children’s way, which is very well done.”
‘Moments of magic’
Employees from various departments helped organize the Be The Match events on Wednesday and Thursday. So many people expressed their support, Dr. Dzurik said, that the Fort Worth event had to be moved to a larger location.
Few volunteers knew Dr. Kim personally but, as donor Sara Billingsley put it, “a lot of people have that servant's heart and want to help any way we can.”
In total, 105 people registered with Be The Match on Wednesday and Thursday after a quick cheek swab.
“We talk a lot about finding moments of magic… both big and small,” Cook Children's President and CEO Rick Merrill said at Wednesday’s event after his daughter had her own cheek swabbed. “And I think this is one of the biggest moments of magic that I’ve seen in a long time.”
How a swab can save a life
Brittany Downham, M.D., who does oncology research at Cook Children’s, and Andrea DeLeon, service coordinator, STAR Kids Care Management, greeted potential donors on Wednesday in a parking lot across from Kids' Place on Southland Avenue. Andrea said she has a personal connection to someone with blood cancer, and Dr. Downham said she has seen many patients benefit from donations.
Volunteers Stephanie Tettleton, M.D., and Haydee Madrigal, a pharmacy technician, ran the cheek swab station Wednesday. Dr. Tettleton, Stem Cell Transplant Coordinator, explained how the match process works. She would know -- she and her team finalized 50 transplants at Cook Children’s last year alone.
If the match is a family member, Dr. Tettelton said the team works with them directly. If no family members match up, the patient and doctors can turn to donor centers like Be The Match. For those swabbed on Wednesday and Thursday, their genetic information is entered into a worldwide database to potentially connect with a patient in need. According to Be The Match, if a patient's doctor selects someone as the best donor, Be The Match schedules an information session so the potential donor can learn more about the donation process, risks and side effects.
“It’s a big undertaking, especially with something time-sensitive like this,” she said about the match process. “There’s lots of moving parts.”
For potential donors, however, the registration process is simple.
“It took five minutes, there’s no drawbacks,” Haley Tullos, a dietician in the NICU, said after she finished her swab.
Haley said no one in her office knows Dr. Kim personally, but “everyone was more than happy to jump on board and come out during lunch and do this.”
Sara Garza, M.D., who has been a general pediatrician at Cook Children’s since 2005, said the event speaks to the type of community at Cook Children’s.
“There are lots of people rallying around to support him; we may realistically help find a match for him or for someone else,” said Dr. Garza.
‘Employees can make such a difference’
That willingness to help one another is part of the Cook Children’s culture, said Laura Van Hoosier, Assistant Vice President of Public Relations and Communications.
“To see them step up in such a huge way for a colleague is a testament to the culture. It’s a culture of kindness, of generosity,” Laura said. “It’s a joy to come to work, it’s an honor to do the work. And today reaffirms that Cook Children’s employees do make a difference every single moment.”
Taylor Pak, Dr. Kim’s niece, attended Thursday’s event in Prosper and said her family is grateful for Cook Children’s support. Her uncle is one of those people “you want to be around all of the time,” she said.
Dr. Kim’s professional partner of 25 years, Monica Herrera, M.D., also attended Thursday’s event. She asked one donor how they heard about the event, and he said he saw coverage on the news and wanted to help if he could, even though he did not know Dr. Kim.
“And to see a stranger just walk in and say, ‘I want to get swabbed,’ that is impressive,” Dr. Herrera said. “And I think that's what (Dr. Kim) sees. And he said that support, that's what's going to get me through it.”
Dr. Kim has been a board-certified pediatrician in the Dallas area for 26 years and recently moved his practice to Cook Children’s. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a Diplomate of the American Board of Pediatrics. He and his wife live in Plano.
“Even now with everything he’s been going through, he has maintained his sense of humor and is still cracking jokes,” Taylor said.
Hopefully, the Be The Match events yield a match for Dr. Kim.
“I don’t think there’s a greater calling in life than to be at a children’s hospital and taking care of children,” Mr. Merrill said. “If anyone deserves an opportunity to get through this, it's someone like Dr. Kim.”