PHOTO: Josh Kause, who works for District 401's Buildings & Grounds Department, recently met the woman whose life he saved by donating blood stem cells.
Thanks to Josh's donation of blood stem cells, Natalie's once life-threatening leukemia is now in remission.
They were joined on the show by Katharina Harf, co-founder of DKMS, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting blood cancer by encouraging the donation of blood stem cells and bone marrow. DKMS is the organization that matched Josh with Natalie as donor and recipient respectively. All it took was for Josh to register as a donor back in 2009.
To learn more about Josh's amazing act of selflessness, as well as the ways that stem cell and bone marrow donation can help those with blood cancer, we interviewed Josh via email. The resulting Q&A is available below. We recommend that you watch the video first before diving into the Q&A! Josh enters at the 5:24 mark.
Josh Kause's Appearance on the Hallmark Channel
Questions & Answers with Josh Kause
The following is an edited version of an interview conducted via email between Josh and District 401's web/media specialist, Dave Porreca.
Q: How long have you worked for District 401?
A: I am going on my fifth year now!
Q: What's your job title, and what are your main responsibilities?
A: I work on grounds at the high school 75 percent of the year, setting up for sports events and maintaining the lawn care with my co-worker Jason. The other 25 percent in the winter I work inside helping out with maintenance work and custodial work, as well as filling in for head custodians and the courier when they are sick or on vacation.
Q: When and where did you tape the "Home & Family" episode in which you met Natalie, the recipient of your stem cell donation?
A: We filmed March 5, 2018, and it aired the next day as well as the following day. We taped in Los Angeles at Universal Studios. Our appearance is also available on DKMS's YouTube channel.
Q: When did you get asked to appear on the show?
A: I was asked approximately four to five months ago.
Q: What was your reaction to that request? Any hesitation about appearing on TV or meeting Natalie for the first time?
A: Well, I had reached out to DKMS through email requesting T-shirts because my family and I had been wanting to take a trip out to Arizona. I had explained to DKMS the strong bond that had developed between Natalie and me. My family and I thought we could meet Natalie and her family and friends during our trip to Arizona along with getting to see the Chicago Cubs in spring training.
I was then contacted a few days later by DKMS, and they told me to hold off on that trip — "We may have something in the works with Hollywood to meet on camera." I then found out it would be Hallmark wanting to do a "Home & Family" segment.
Right away I emailed Natalie to see if she would be interested and comfortable doing this. I was filled with so much joy with what was becoming reality of meeting the recipient along with the joy of having a platform such as Hallmark to get the message out there that we need more people signed up to donate — specifically young adults, due to the increased numbers our body produces during this time between the ages of 18 and 30.
PHOTO: After Josh and Natalie met on Hallmark's "Home & Family" show, their families got together out of the spotlight. Photo courtesy of Josh Kause (click image for larger view).
Q: What kind of response have you received from people who've seen the show?
A: Lots of hugs and tears of joy! A lot of texts saying thank you. Very heartwarming to say the least. Hallmark estimated that four million viewers watched the "Home & Family" segment.
Q: The moment when you met Natalie was very touching. Looking back on that moment now, what was it like for you? In other words, what kind of emotions were you experiencing?
A: I'm still on cloud nine that I was able to give her that big hug. And as cliché as it sounds, there are no words to describe that feeling and emotion that flows through you. That's why on the show you hear me say, "It's like getting married all over again" — one of the happiest moments in my life.
Q: What happened after the taping? Did you and Natalie continue talking?
A: After the taping we thanked all the crew and producers. They had us take pictures professionally really fast with the host of the show. We then went back into the green rooms where we had met each other's families.
She gave me a beautiful frame with pictures of myself donating in the hospital and a picture of her receiving the donation in her hospital!
My wife and I gave her a bracelet that supports blood cancer survivors! Unfortunately we had to leave for our flight shortly after. So In total we only saw each other for just over one hour. We are hoping to get together again in the next year either in Chicago or Arizona!
Q: Where is Natalie from? I thought I heard her mention "Phoenix" during her interview, but I'm not sure if that's where she lives.
A: Yes, you did hear her mention Phoenix. That's where she does her "light the night" walk. She actually resides in Scottsdale.
Q: During your TV appearance, you mentioned both your wife and your wife's best friend, whose passing has inspired you to help others. Could you tell us their names?
A: My wife's name is Jackie Kause. Her maiden name is Jackie Zagorski. Our family friend was Michelle DeCarlo, who graduated from Elmwood Park High School in 2009.
Q: How long have you been married?
A: I am happily married to my high school sweetheart for just over three years now. We started dating in 2005 I was a sophomore and she was a freshman at EPHS.
Q: When did you graduate from EPHS?
Q: When did Michelle pass away? Was it shortly after she graduated?
A: She graduated high school in 2009 and then passed away in October 2009.
Q: During your segment on the show, you talked about the St. Baldrick's event where you originally signed up to be a bone marrow/blood stem cell donor in 2009. When and where was that event?
A: It's every year in March, and it's held at the Hanging Gardens Banquets in River Grove.
Q: What was going on at the event?
A: So the event is to help fight childhood cancer. The surrounding communities come together, and most of the people there have a "team." Those teams have members who raise money and get donations throughout the year, and they all come together that night to see who has raised the most. Or you can be like me and not be on a team, and just show up and support everyone.
There are prizes, auctions, a head-shaving station, dancing and music with a live DJ. It also gives us time to reflect back on the little ones who we lost so they are always remembered for the hard fight they went through. We also celebrate the little ones who are in remission.
DKMS happened to have a donation table at the event that night in 2009. So when walking past with my wife and friend we decided to sign up!
[NOTE: When a potential donor signs up with DKMS, a cheek cell sample is collected at registration. The sample is tested for tissue type and added to the national donor pool, so doctors can search and find matching donors for their patients.]
PHOTO: This collage of photos taken at two different places at two different times shows Josh Kause donating his peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) and Natalie Nojaim receiving them. Photo collage courtesy of Josh Kause and Natalie Nojaim (click image for larger view).
Q: When did you get the message informing you that you were a match and that the transplant of blood stem cells would take place?
A: On July 13, 2016, I was told I was a match. They don’t tell you a exact date right away on when you will have to do the actual donation because it all depends on the recipient's body and doctors.
Q: After you talked to the DKMS people and you understood the situation, what happened from that point on? What was the timeline of events?
A: On July 21, 2016, I had a blood test done to confirm. On Aug. 25, 2016, I was told I was a definite match. On Sept. 15, 2016, I had a physical exam and vein assessment. On Oct. 8, 2016, I started to receive Neupogen shots in my arms to boost my stem cells. A nurse would come to my house for four days to do that.
On Oct. 12, 2016, I went to the Loyola University Medical Center's Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center on First Avenue in Maywood to do the donation. In December I received a call that the patient had gone home for the holidays from the hospital. (They give very vague updates throughout the year.) I had one more call after that, and that was my cells had fully engrafted in the recipient!
Q: My understanding is that two types of transplant procedures are available for blood cancer patients. One involves the transplant of actual bone marrow, the tissue that produces blood stem cells. The other procedure involves the transplant of stem cells directly from the bloodstream. You donated through the second type of procedure. Could you describe what happened?
A: The procedure I had done was almost like giving blood. It is called peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation. This is the donation method used in 75 percent of cases. PBSC donation is a nonsurgical, outpatient procedure that collects blood stem cells via the bloodstream. The other procedure is the donation method used in about 25 percent of cases, generally when the patient is a child. It is a one- to two-hour surgical procedure performed under anesthesia, so no pain is experienced during the donation. Marrow cells are collected from the back of your pelvic bone using a syringe.
Q: How long did the PBSC donation take?
A: I was in and out in two hours and 15 minutes.
Q: Did you feel any negative effects afterward?
A: I felt relief! My body had adjusted as planned and went back to normal. DKMS followed up with me every few weeks to make sure I was doing OK.
Q: How long did it take you to recover from the procedure?
A: Easy rest for two days, with no heavy lifting for two weeks.
Q: Have your cells replenished themselves by now? In other words, are you fully recovered?
A: Yes, I am fully back and recovered. I was fully recovered after those two weeks of no heavy lifting.
Q: When did you find out the result of the transplant? In other words, when did you learn that the transplant was a success, and that Natalie was in remission?
A: I officially found that out that everything was 100 percent OK when they asked if I would like to sign a waiver to get in contact with her one year later.
Q: When did you first learn who the recipient was?
A: I received an email while at work here. I knew what the email was, but I didn't want to open it until I got home because I knew I was going to tear up. When I got home, I opened it up and saw her name, phone number and email. I don't have social media, so I had my wife try and look her up, which she did, and we got to see her picture for the first time!
Q: When did you first communicate with Natalie? Who contacted whom first?
A: I kept thinking every minute of every day that went by whether I should reach out first. Surprisingly she made that decision easy by emailing me first. It was the most heart-warming and touching email I have ever received. I will save it for the rest of my life.
Q: Are you still in touch with Natalie?
A: Yes. Just like she said on the show, we are brother and sister now! We text often. Before meeting each other, Hallmark encouraged us not to Skype or talk on the phone so they could get the first reaction of us seeing each other. So now I am looking forward to phone calls and Skype calls.
Q: Based on your experience, would you encourage other people to sign up as a donor?
A: Of course. SUPER IS HUMAN. What we need now is to encourage everyone from 18 to 61 to sign up. You never know how much pain you can save someone and their family from. Natalie's doctors tested three or four other matches before they got to me, and look what happened. She now wakes up every day to bring her beautiful children to school and can live a normal happy life all over again.
Q: How can people sign up to be a donor? What do they have to do?
A: They can always reach out to me for questions about any part of the process. I would encourage everyone to check out the DKMS website, which has all the info you would ever need. You can also sign up there. It only takes a few minutes. DKMS does not charge a fee to sign up.
Q: Overall, what has this experience been like — the entire swirl of events from receiving the first message about a match to taping the Hallmark Channel show?
A: Deep breath. DKMS and the staff are first class. They make sure you are well taken care of throughout the process and afterward. As for the whole taping of the show, I obviously had been waiting a year to see Natalie, so that made the whole trip for me. I also saw it as a great opportunity to encourage young people to sign up. They can take what they saw on TV — how happy Natalie and I were to meet for the first time and hear each other's voices for the first time — knowing that could be them if they just signed up. It's the greatest thing life has to offer in my mind — to help someone else by being a match.
Q: Do you plan to do any more public events with Natalie — or on your own — to promote awareness of blood stem cell/bone marrow donation? If so, what's on the horizon?
A: Yes, I'm going to host an event that I would encourage everyone to attend. Most likely it will be held at the Elmwood Park Civic Center in the circle. No specific dates yet or details. We are in the works with DKMS and some of the Village officials here, including the Police Department, to get the whole community involved. When I find out details I will happily provide you with those so everyone can attend.