For 19 months, TV producer Steven Bochco wondered about the stranger who saved his life through a stem cell donation.
“I spent a year and a half hoping to meet this person,” the 10-time Emmy winner tells PEOPLE. “You wonder what they’re going to look like, where they’re from, and more than anything, why they did it.”
On Friday, Bochco finally had the chance to get his questions answered when he came face-to-face with his donor, 25-year-old Jon Kayne, for the first time. The pair met as part of City of Hope‘s 40th Annual Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion – an event that brings more than 4,000 survivors, donors and families together for a massive celebration.
The powerhouse producer best known for NYPD Blues, Doogie Howser, M.D. and Hill Street Blues first came to City of Hope in July 2014, just one month after he was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia.
“Needless to say, I was petrified,” Bochco, 72, says. “But you can’t live your life being terrified. At some point you have to say, ‘Okay, what do I do now?’ ”
Bochco began 70 days of treatment – including three rounds of chemotherapy – in the hopes of eradicating his cancer and preparing him for a transplant.
“It’s like carpet bombing – it destroys your immune system,” he says. “Then you have a rough 10-day period of time where it’s scary because you literally have no immune system and so nobody can come see you.”
It was during this treatment that Bochco learned that a 23-year-old donor had been located through the Be The Match, a national bone marrow donor registry.
“It just amazed me that such a young man would have such a sense of humanity and generosity,” he recalls. “When I was that age, I was too busy being a kid. He’s clearly a very special young fellow.”
Kayne’s reasons for donating are deeply personal. He was inspired to register as a donor in memory of his grandfather, who died from a brain tumor when Kayne was just 13.
“He was probably the most selfless person I ever met,” Kayne tells PEOPLE. “I would have done anything to keep him around for longer. So when I found out thought that I could do that for someone else – I never had any doubts that I should.”
The very week that Kayne got a call saying that his stem cells could save a life, he learned that his grandmother had leukemia.
“If ever there was a situation where she needed a donor, I would absolutely want someone to do that for her,” he says. “So I definitely had some personal ties to donating, but I didn t need them to convince me that it was the right thing to do.”
Within 24 hours of the transplant in October 2014, Bochco says he felt like he had a new immune system. “It was an extraordinary experience,” he says. “Over the course of 24 hours, my white blood cell count shot up to the normal range and then all of a sudden I was in recovery.”
Bochco has made such a spectacular recovery that he says leukemia feels like “ancient history.”
“There are no restrictions in my life,” he says. “I’m back to work and I really don’t think about being sick anymore.”
He may be ready to put his illness behind him, but he’s just beginning to get to know his donor. Donors and recipients cannot meet or exchange identifying information for 12 months after the donation due to privacy laws so Bochco and Kayne are eager to make up for lost time.
“I met his entire family and I’m going to take them all to dinner so we can really get to know them,” Bochco says. “That way we can each ask each other the 25 questions that have been rattling around in our brains for all this time.”
“As it turns out, I know a little bit about his work and his life, but I don’t know him,” Kayne adds. “I’m excited to get to know that part of the story.”