Kim Kardashian West introduces Thorpe stem cell recipient, donor
Tony Wolfe, right, of Jim Thorpe, meets Alan Weinberg, of Queens, New York, on Oct. 29 at the Gift of Life Gala in Beverly Hills. Wolfe was diagnosed in April 2017 with Philadelphia chromosome positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia and received a stem-cell transplant in September 2017. Weinberg was the donor. Scan this photo with the Prindeo app to see a video. PHOTO COURTESY OF KARA FRANS PHOTOGRAPHY
Kim Kardashian West accepts the first ever Gift of Life Impact Award at a gala in Beverly Hills on Oct. 29. Standing behind West is Jim Thorpe resident Tony Wolfe. Wolfe received a stem-cell transplant thanks to West’s social media campaign to support Gift of Life. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
A little over a year after his life was saved through a successful stem cell transplant, Tony Wolfe finally got the chance to say thank you.
The former corrections officer from Jim Thorpe met his donor, Alan Weinberg, at the Gift of Life Gala in Beverly Hills on Oct. 29.
“I was nervous,” Wolfe said. “How do you say thank you for something like that? He’s a hero to me.”
Weinberg, a fiscal officer for the borough of Queens, New York, signed up for the Gift of Life Marrow Registry after reading social media posts from Kim Kardashian West promoting the organization. West got involved with Gift of Life to support Hope 4 Adam, a campaign aimed at helping Adam Krief, who needed a bone-marrow transplant.
As result of West’s social media posts, over 10,000 potential donors got their cheeks swabbed and joined the bone marrow and stem cell registry. While Krief passed away in 2017 after his body rejected a transplant, the influx of registrants had a positive outcome for Wolfe.
In April 2017, Wolfe was diagnosed with Philadelphia chromosome positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the same disease that took the life of his son Hunter in 2011.
“That is pretty much a surreal moment when you’re diagnosed,” Wolfe said. “You’re in the hospital hoping to find a transplant. You keep your fingers crossed, but you know the probability is pretty low. It’s you against the world until you get that call. When they said we have one, I was ready to go.”
Wolfe went through the chemotherapy, but doctors decided a bone-marrow transplant was his best, and possibly only, shot at survival.
He received the transplant in September 2017. He is exercising several times a week and has been working his way back to normal.
“It’s getting there,” Wolfe said. “The doctors said you really have to give it at least a year before you start getting that back-to-normal feeling. My strength has been good. I still get a little fatigued every now and then, so getting that cardiovascular stability back has been the challenge.”
All signs are pointing positive. Wolfe is in remission, and that is the only thing he is focused on.
“I’m still breathing, and I’ll take it,” he said.
When the chance came for Wolfe to attend the Gift of Life Gala, he jumped at it. After being introduced to Weinberg, the two quickly began sharing stories and finding out all of their similarities.
“We talked about our lives and our families,” Wolfe said. “A bone-marrow transplant really changes some things for you, and they aren’t always major things. What I found funny is he was going through those same things.
For example, before the transplant, I had no problem with mosquitoes, and now they bother the heck out of me. In talking to him, he was going through that same thing, and I just found that unique.”
In front of a crowd of around 300 guests, Wolfe and Weinberg were introduced by West and had the opportunity to share their story. Wolfe sat at the same table as West during the event, but said the chance for interaction with the celebrity was minimal.
“She was inundated with photographers and things like that,” Wolfe said. “They were also filming ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians.’ We signed a waiver, so I’m thinking it will be part of their show in the future. I did get a chance to thank her as I walked on stage.”
West received the first-ever Gift of Life Impact Award.
“I made a simple tweet,” she said. “Knowing that it could change someone’s life, that’s the easiest thing that I could possibly do. I would do it a million times over. I was so overwhelmed and inspired by the over 10,000 people that joined the registry. I joined myself, because my cousin CiCi, who’s battled cancer for 18 years, had a similar problem.”
Since its inception in 1991, Gift of Life has helped find over 15,000 matches for those with a range of blood cancers, resulting in more than 3,300 transplants.
The organization has a heavy reliance on fundraising, something Wolfe is no stranger to locally.
He organizes the annual Hunter Wolfe Golf Tournament, which raises well over $10,000 each year for the Blue Ridge Chapter of Dream Come True.
“I’m planning to get more involved with Gift of Life,” he said. “People don’t realize how easy it is to save a life. I really hadn’t heard a lot about them and I don’t think most people in Carbon County did either. It’s a simple cheek swab that gets sent away and suddenly you’re a part of the registry. I want to do my part to help get the word out.”
For more information on how to donate funds or get swabbed, visit https://www.giftoflife.org.