COURTESY KIRK FAMILY
Rachel Kirk sits with her dogs, Foxy and Tinkerbell. Kirk had leukemia at age 4, and was treated at Children's Hospital in Orange, Calif., for two years. The family now lives in Waimea. Today, Kirk will meet the doctor who saved her life.
Leukemia survivor gets second shot to thank doctor
Twelve-year-old Rachel Kirk says that if she had one wish, it would be to meet the doctor who saved her life from leukemia.
She didn't know it but her wish was to be granted today in Honolulu.
A surprise reunion with her California doctor was arranged by Lex Brodie's Tire Company Foundation as part of an award for Rachel.
The Big Island seventh-grader had expressed her wish in a winning letter in the foundation's monthly program, "Thank you ... Very Much."
Rachel was diagnosed with leukemia at Children's Hospital in Orange, Calif., just after her 4th birthday. Her family was living in Downey then.
Dr. Pamela Kempert, pediatric oncologist now at Cedar-Sinai Hospital, was attending new patients at Children's Hospital and treated Rachel for two years.
Addressing Kempert in her letter, Rachel wrote:
"When I was 4 and had leukemia, I was too little to thank you for saving my life. Now that I am 12, I understand that I am a survivor. Without you, I might not be here today thanking you.
"Since I was only 4 when I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphatic Leukemia (ALL) and was 6 when I was cured, I don't remember you, but my mom says you were an amazing doctor and person ...
"I am now 12 years old and I am in seventh grade at Waimea Middle School in Hawaii. I am an honor roll student and after this October, I have been in remission for six years!!
"If I had only one wish it would be to meet you again, Dr. Kempert, and thank you, because you really did save my life!"
The awards ceremony was scheduled at 8:30 a.m. during the live Perry & Price radio show at the John Dominis Restaurant.
Accompanying Rachel here were her parents, Tami and Michael, siblings Kyle, 10, and Sarah, 7, her seventh-grade teacher Leesa Robertson and Robertson's husband, Jay.
"She has never been to Honolulu or Waikiki other than to go to Kapiolani (Hospital) for a check-up, so she's really excited," Tami Kirk said by telephone this week from Waimea.
"My husband and other two kids have only been to Kauai. Otherwise, they haven't left the island in six years, so we're all excited."
Kempert and her husband, Richard, a family medicine doctor, also arrived for the occasion.
"Rachel doesn't know I'm coming," Kempert said earlier this week. She said Tami Kirk had sent her Rachel's letter. "It was very sweet.
"It will be great to see her again. She was one of my favorite little girls, like a little angel. She was a good patient ... She was very pleasant and sort of looked like a little angel with big blonde curls and blue eyes."
Kempert said Rachel had no serious complications and "did very well with standardized treatment ... Now 85 percent of children are cured of leukemia."
Tami Kirk, who works with toddlers at the Montessori School, said Rachel "had some rough times" when she went through the treatment but now is doing "really, really good."
"I'm fine," said Rachel, adding that she was "really excited" about coming to Honolulu. "I want to swim at the hotels ... and to see the mall."
She said she likes "to do crafts and stuff" and "I really like dogs." The family has five and two are hers -- Foxy, a border collie/husky, and Tinkerbell, a Chihuahua fox terrier.
"I want to work with animals," she said. "I like to take pictures and I want to be an animal photographer."
George's Aviation flew the Kirk party here from the Big Island. George Hanzawa, owner of the charter aviation service, flies all neighbor island winners of the "thank you" contest here at no cost, said Bill Gray, marketing director for the tire foundation.
The foundation offered free airfare to the Kemperts, but Pamela Kempert said the couple already had plans to come here on vacation.