Diversity was the running theme on Thursday night at the 11th annual DKMS Big Love Gala for Delete Blood Cancer.
“DKMS is looking to increase and add even more diversity to the bank all the time,” said Camillo Pane, chief executive officer of Coty Inc. and the gala event chair.
“It can be extremely difficult for patients to find a match — that’s why we need a large, diverse donor base,” added Katharina Harf, DKMS cofounder and global ambassador.
Pane remarked that the topic was especially pertinent given current events.
“Tonight is the opportunity to celebrate…when ordinary people are in need, ordinary people can and will do extraordinary things for people they don’t know and who they may never meet,” Pane said. “In volatile times like [these], people should remember [that] and hold onto it.”
The evening’s presenters stressed the importance of people from all kinds of different backgrounds and ethnicities to volunteer to become stem cell and bone marrow donors.
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Frank E. Flowers, a filmmaker and global ambassador for DKMS, lost his mother to acute myeloid leukemia. Her ethnic background made it particularly challenging to find a perfect “10 out of 10” donor match.
“She had a little bit of African, a little bit of Caribbean, a little bit of Latino in her and we learned that actually made her almost impossible to find a match,” said Flowers, who noted that finding that perfect match is the best course of treatment, according to DKMS. “Cancer in a lot of ways is not color blind — with blood cancer and finding a life-saving match, it affects different groups of people in different ways.”
Harf ticked off examples of diverse matches DKMS has highlighted over the years.
“We saw a six-year-old girl from Alabama whose match was a college freshman from Wichita, Kan., a teenage girl from Tennessee whose match was the son of a boxing legend. We even saw a Brazilian boy whose match was a Broadway star,” Harf said.
This year’s gala was no different — toward the end of the night, a 13-year-old boy from Michigan was brought on stage to meet his donor, a Guatemalan grad student, for the first time.
“When a donor saves the life of a patient, it unites and creates an external bond that crosses all borders, barriers and boundaries,” Harf said.
Later in the evening, Rita Ora appeared as a presenter on-stage. Other notable attendees included Derek Lam, actor Alexandra Daddario and model Coco Rocha. Jordan Smith, the season nine winner of “The Voice,” serenaded the audience at the end of the evening with renditions of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Sia’s “Chandelier.” The event raised about $4.4 million.