‘Blood brothers’ celebrate stem cell transplant

Craig Johnson (left) with stem donor Henrik Janssen

Their last names are practically identical. They are both fathers, and their oldest sons, now 6’3, were born on the same day – just two hours apart. “Blood brothers” Craig Johnson and Henrik Janssen had much to celebrate recently.

When Johnson came home from a typical day of work, he could sense that something was different. It was his 40th birthday, and after his wife, Toni, greeted him, he was astonished to see the stem cell donor who saved his life nearly six years ago. Henrik Janssen, along with his wife Berit and three children, had just arrived in Boston from their hometown outside of Frankfurt, Germany.

This was going to be a birthday Johnson would never forget.

Johnson came to Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center after a lump under his arm led to a diagnosis of blastic natural killer-cell lymphoma, an extremely rare form of cancer. After undergoing several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Johnson’s only hope for recovery was a stem cell transplant. With no match in his family, he turned to the National Marrow Donor Program at Dana-Farber. In less than a month, Dana-Farber had found him a match.

Johnson had his stem cell transplant in 2006, and has since led a healthy life with his wife and four children.

Every year, more than 35,000 patients are diagnosed with lymphoma, leukemia, or other diseases that are sometimes treated by stem cell transplants. Only 30 percent of those who need a transplant will find a donor whose tissue type matches their own – usually a family member. The remaining 70 percent must turn to the unrelated donor registry.

Janssen was inspired to join the registry when he attended a bone marrow drive in Germany for a young girl with leukemia, three years before he was matched with Johnson. “The registration process was so easy, and I thought, even if I am not a match for this girl, there might be someone else out there who I can help,” says Janssen.

“The best proof this process works is right here in Craig. He is healthy, and his family is happy. I just hope maybe they can visit us one day, too.”

To join the Be The Match Registry® of the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) at Dana-Farber or obtain more information, call 866-875-DFCI (3324) or 617-632-2561 or email nmdpdonor@dfci.harvard.edu.