A Ballet Dancer's Brave Fight to Beat Leukemia

Joe Bunn, photo via Facebook.

Every once in a while you come across a dancer whose work ethic and positive attitude is so remarkable that you’re inspired to reevaluate your own work habits. When I was dancing with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in 2005, a young apprentice named Joseph Bunn joined the company. He was a student from the University of the Arts, and while his technique still needed some polishing, I was deeply impressed by his focus and determination. Each day after class as I’d change my shoes, I’d watch him practice pirouettes and tours en l'air tirelessly on his own, and he'd eagerly take corrections from older company members with a smile. He improved so quickly that I couldn’t wait to see where his career would take him. Eventually he moved on to American Repertory Ballet before heading off to Europe, where he is now a member of Ballet im Revier in Germany.

Bunn with former ARB dancer Kristin Scott. Photo by Eduardo Patino, via Facebook

Now, Bunn’s career—and his life—are in danger. In 2014, he was diagnosed with leukemia, which he successfully beat with chemotherapy. But it returned last November, and he now needs a bone marrow transplant to survive. In recent months, he's traded in the dance studio for a hospital in Essen, Germany until he recovers. But Bunn, who is African American, has had a difficult time finding a donor who matches his tissue type. While anyone could be a potential match, the likelihood of his finding one is much higher with another African American. But according to blackbonemarrow.com, only 7 percent of black volunteers make up the international registry, and only 19 percent of African American patients find a perfectly matching donor.

Bunn is now on an international search to find a match—and those in the dance industry are stepping up to get the word out. Ballet im Revier's artistic director, Bridget Breiner, made a plea to the international dance community on the online interview series Interview En'Lair, with a list of donor registries worldwide. UArts School of Dance professor Connie Michael has started a vocal fund raising campaign on social media. And last month, American Repertory Ballet dancers held a donor registration drive for their former colleague in collaboration with Delete Blood Cancer DKMS, an organization that matches patients in need with potential donors from its registry. (Volunteers register online and then send in a cheek swab; matches are then contacted and asked to donate a quart of blood.)  It shows just how powerful the dance community can be when one of its own is in need. For more information on how to register, please visit deletebloodcancer.org and bethematch.org.

 

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