Catholic Priest’s Adult Stem Cell Donation Saves Kentucky Woman’s Life

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 29, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Catholic Priest’s Adult Stem Cell Donation Saves Kentucky Woman’s Life Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 29, 2006

Kansas City, MO ( — A Catholic priest from Kansas City who donated his adult stem cells to save a Kentucky woman’s life surprised her at a local pro-life event by showing up to offer his encouragement and support. Lee Ann Collins, a mother of two from Kentucky, had no idea Father Ken Riley would fly to the event to greet her.

Collins didn’t know Father Riley, pastor at St. Bernadette Parish in Kansas City, three years ago when doctors were looking for stem cell donors to help treat her leukemia.

Father Riley was a potential match and he had made adult stem cell donations before. As a member of the Heart of America Bone Marrow Registry’s databank, Riley donated bone marrow to an Indiana man, who unfortunately died months later.

According to the Catholic Key newspaper, Father Riley’s inspiration for donating came from a second grade student at Lady of the Presentation School, and his father. The student also suffered from leukemia.

"We held a bone marrow drive for him and I was one of the donors to get on the registry," Father Riley said. "I spent the day there holding other people’s hands who were less-than-liking the needle prick for a blood donation."

His father, a diabetic, also inspired him as he watched a kidney transplant and a pancreas transplant essentially rid him of the condition.

When he decided to become a donor for Lee Ann Collins, he didn’t know her name, but he made the stem cell donation anyway.

"You don’t know (who you donate to) for the first year," Father Riley told the Key. "Both parties have to sign a consent form saying ‘Yes, we want to communicate with each other,’ but you don’t have to."

For a week he was given a daily injection of filgrastim, a drug to promote white blood cell growth and eventually underwent a seven hour procedure at Georgetown University Hospital to donate the cells.

A year after she received the transplant, Collins told officials at the University of Louisville that she wanted to know the donor.

Collins and Riley exchanged phone calls, but it wasn’t until a surprise meeting at a pro-life rally in Kentucky on June 9 that the pair met.

During the rally, a local pro-life leader presented the story of her donation and Collins was told to come to the stage to present an award in Father Riley’s honor, and she indicated she hoped she would be able to meet her donor someday. Then, Father Riley came to the front of the stage as the audience cheered.

"I was so surprised, I had no idea they planned this," Collins told the Catholic newspaper.

"What can you say, what words can you say to someone who saved your life?" Collins said.