JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Twelve-year-old Rachel Kirk was all smiles yesterday morning after meeting with Dr. Pamela Kempert at John Dominis Restaurant. Kempert treated Kirk for acute lymphatic leukemia for two years in California.
Leukemia survivor's wish granted
Rachel Kirk was told the doctor could not be found who saved her life when she had leukemia at age 4. Then Michael W. Perry said, "She's right behind you."
A touching meeting between California pediatric oncologist Pamela Kempert and her former patient was held yesterday morning during the live "Perry & Price" radio show at John Dominis Restaurant.
"It was great," said Rachel, who will turn 13 on Thursday and will be entering the eighth grade at Waimea Middle School on the Big Island.
"It's so exciting to see her," said Kempert, who treated Rachel for acute lymphatic leukemia for two years at Children's Hospital in Orange, Calif., and is now at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. "She is a beautiful young woman, with so much courage to get through this."
The surprise reunion and a $250 gift certificate for Ala Moana Center were presented to Rachel as awards for a winning letter in a monthly contest held by Lex Brodie's Tire Company Foundation.
The foundation's "Thank You ... Very Much!" program invites Hawaii students to write letters to thank someone who has influenced their lives in a positive way.
Rachel wrote, "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 foundation also presented a $500 check in Rachel's name to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Last year, 800 isle residents were diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, said Amanda Homrighausen, who accepted the check for the society.
Patients such as Kirk might not have survived 20 to 25 years ago when the cure rate was 20 percent, she said. The cure rate's rise to 85 percent shows how valuable research is, she said.
Scott Williams, general manager and part-owner of Lex Brodie's Tire Co., said the normal donation of $250 for an organization was upped to $500 for the leukemia society "because this is so special."
He said the "Thank You" program is heading into the third year with winners from 100 schools and five islands.
Lex Brodie's Tire and Service Centers on the Big Island joined the Oahu store in sponsoring the contest with a $2,000 contribution.
Rachel said she did not remember anything about having leukemia. "It's probably a good thing," Kempert said. "Some treatment is not pleasant."
"It was so exciting that the doctor could come," said Rachel's mother, Tami. "It really surprised Rachel. They told her they didn't know where she was."
Also attending the event were Rachel's father, Michael, sister Sarah, celebrating her eighth birthday July 31, brother Kyle, who will be 11 on Aug. 9, and Rachel's seventh-grade teacher, Leesa Robertson and her husband, Jay. George's Aviation flew the group to Honolulu at no cost.
Rachel looked forward to shopping with her gift certificate yesterday afternoon, explaining, "I've gotta buy stuff for school, new clothing, and for birthdays."