Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Bone marrow donor and recipient celebrate 20 years after transplant

CLEARWATER — Twenty years ago today, Lynn Kennedy was in a Seattle hospital awaiting a bone marrow transplant.

She had chronic myelogenous leukemia, and without a transplant, her doctor said she wouldn't survive.

Kennedy will celebrate Thanksgiving today with more than 20 family members and the woman who is responsible for her life: her donor.

"We're family. We both gained a sister," said Kennedy, 56, who lives in Clearwater. "I can't look at her and not realize what she did."

Without Candy Tal's generosity, Kennedy wouldn't have been able to:

See her daughter graduate from Palm Harbor University High School or the University of South Florida. Attend her daughter's wedding. Or see the birth of her grandchildren, great-nieces and great-nephew.

Her donor, Candy Tal, feels just as grateful.

"I feel like I won the lotto with her," said Tal, 54, who lives in San Jose, Calif.

• • •

It was 1987 and Kennedy was working as an insurance auditor in downtown Chicago. She had an inkling that something was wrong, but she wasn't too worried.

She was bruising easily. And her stomach was swollen. Her brother, a family practitioner suggested she get a blood workup. And her sister, Diane Shutter, a phlebotomist, drew her blood.

Not long after that, Kennedy asked her sister what happened with her test.

"Am I going to die?" she asked jokingly.

Her sister said no.

But that night her sister stopped by.

Kennedy was washing dishes.

"You're very, very sick," her sister said. "We need to get to the hospital."

Kennedy was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a blood cancer.

She was told that without a transplant, she would likely only have three years to live.

For a while, she went on oral chemotherapy. She also had interferon therapy. Interferon is a natural protein that revs up the body's immune defenses.

Her biggest worry was that her daughter might get it, too.

Her doctor said no. It's not hereditary.

• • •

Tal wanted to be a bone marrow donor because a good friend of hers had died of bone cancer.

When she found out a co-worker's son had leukemia, Tal decided to take part in the bone marrow drive

Tal wasn't a match for her co-worker's son. But her information went into the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry.

Three years and two months after Kennedy was diagnosed, she learned she had a match. It was Tal.

Kennedy wasn't sure if she wanted a transplant right away. She felt okay. But her doctor told her if she didn't do it then, she could lose her chance forever.

Kennedy left her home in Woodbridge, Ill., and checked into the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

There, she received chemotherapy and radiation in preparation for her bone marrow transplant.

"I never freaked out until the night I had to go to the hospital," Kennedy said. "I knew when I left my daughter, I might not go home."

Tal's marrow was removed under general anesthesia at Stanford Medical Center.

She had a bit of discomfort but said it was completely worth it to save someone's life.

It was the early years of the national registry, and a previous donor transported her marrow to Seattle.

In an unorthodox move, Tal asked the man to bring a card for the recipient with him. Tal wished her recipient well and said how happy she was that she could help her.

The transplant was a success and soon Kennedy's mother started corresponding with Tal.

About five months later, Kennedy and Tal spoke for the first time on the phone.

A few months later, they met face to face at a hotel in San Jose.

"It was absolutely incredible, miraculous to see this woman so full of life and energy," Tal said.

Kennedy doesn't remember what they said.

"We just cried," she said.

• • •

The women have kept in touch over the years, mostly through phone calls and e-mails.

Kennedy and Tal also have visited each other a handful of times.

Kennedy, who lived in Clearwater in the 1970s and early 1980s, returned here in 1997, when she married her current husband, Jim.

To celebrate Kennedy's 20th year cancer free, her family flew in out-of-town relatives, Tal and her son, Joshua.

When Kennedy looks back on her ordeal, it feels almost surreal.

"It's almost like it wasn't me," Kennedy said. "It would be a great movie with a happy ending. I do count my blessings for sure."

Lorri Helfand can be reached at or (727) 445-4155.

.Fast facts

Treatments have improved for many

About 260,000 people in the United States are living with, or are in remission from, leukemia, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This year about 4,870 people in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. Twenty years ago, the average life expectancy for that type of leukemia was three and a half years, said Dr. John Wingard, director of Shands at the University of Florida Bone Marrow Transplant program. Since then, drugs have dramatically improved the outcome for many patients with the disease.

To learn more

Want to find out more about the National Marrow Donor Program? Visit or call 1-800-627-7692.

Bone marrow donor and recipient celebrate 20 years after transplant 11/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 6:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Maria: Clearwater Coast Guard plane aids rescue near Puerto Rico


    Eight minutes. That's how long it took the Petty Officer 3rd Class Darryn Manley of the Coast Guard said it took him to spot the boat that capsized off a Puerto Rican island on Thursday.

  2. Mom of girl who died looking for candy seeks to keep husband away

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Eight days after her 4-year-old daughter died in the care of paternal grandparents, pregnant Lizette Hernandez sat in a Hillsborough County courthouse Friday, attempting to seek full-time custody of her 19-month-old son.

    Lizette Hernandez, 22, completes paperwork Friday for a motion for protection from domestic violence against her husband, Shane Zoller. Their daughter, Yanelly, 4, died in a reported gun accident at the home of Zoller's parents Sept. 14. She alleges that her husband hit her and caused her to fall on a grave marker at their daughter's funeral Thursday in a tussle over their remaining 1-year-old son. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL  |  Times]
  3. New owners take over downtown St. Petersburg's Hofbräuhaus


    ST. PETERSBURG — The downtown German beer-hall Hofbräuhaus St. Petersburg has been bought by a partnership led by former Checkers Drive-In Restaurants president Keith Sirois.

    The Hofbrauhaus, St. Petersburg, located in the former historic Tramor Cafeteria, St. Petersburg, is under new ownership.

  4. Ed Sheeran coming to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa


    Let it never be said Ed Sheeran hasn't given the people of Tampa what they want.

  5. Editorial: Once more, homeowners are let down by state housing agency


    Once upon a time, the federal government created a program called the Hardest Hit Fund. Its goal was admirable, and its mission important. The fund was designed to aid Americans in danger of losing their houses after the Great Recession had wreaked havoc on the economy. Unfortunately, the folks in Washington erred in …

    The Hardest Hit Fund was designed to aid Americans in danger of losing their houses after the Great Recession. Unfortunately, the folks in Washington trusted Florida to get that money into the hands of people who needed it most.