I owe a lot of what I am to two institutions. One of them is Athens College, a wonderful elementary/high school. The other is City of Hope.
City of Hope has helped me beat two different life-threatening diseases — more than 50 years apart — and for that I'm most grateful.
I traveled from my native Greece to the U.S. in 1951 to study engineering at Stanford. At the start of my senior year, I was working as a waiter. For that job, we were required to have an X-ray to check for tuberculosis. Something showed up in the image, and it turned out that I was positive for TB.
In those days, not being a U.S. citizen, I could not be admitted to a county hospital. City of Hope was one of my few options, so I went to the hospital in Duarte. This was in September 1955.
I imagined I was heading to some kind of dismal ward with a whole bunch of people in one huge room, one bed next to the other. Instead, when I got to City of Hope, the TB ward had rooms that were more like cottages, each surrounded by a garden.
Not only were the doctors wonderful, they were at the forefront of available technology. I was given medicine that had not been available just a few years before. Those are the same drugs, in fact, that are still used now for TB.
I must say, except for the fact I was anxious to get back and complete my degree, it was really a wonderful existence. Mine was a minimal case, so I was not bedridden. As I improved, I was allowed out to go to the City of Hope movie theater. I also could visit with the other patients.
In fact, on Halloween, another TB patient and I got permission to visit the kids who were in a recently built leukemia hospital. We improvised clown outfits — dresses and makeup from the nurses and so forth. We walked around the leukemia wards and tried to bring some joy to those kids.
I finally left three months after I arrived. I feel extremely indebted to City of Hope for what they did for me. And I haven't had any associated problems all these years, from 1955 to today.
I went on to graduate from Stanford and started working as an engineer. Once I was able financially, I started donating money to City of Hope every year.
Decades after I left the TB ward, I would turn to the medical center again. This time, it was for help dealing with a prostate cancer diagnosis three years ago.
At the time, the option of robotic surgery was not available where I live in San Diego. I found out that City of Hope was a pioneer in that kind of surgery, so I met with surgeon Mark Kawachi, M.D.
I knew that the more experience the surgeons have with robotic surgery, the more likely that the outcome would be good. So I broached the subject with Dr. Kawachi, but before I finished my question, Dr. Kawachi interrupted me with, “You would like to know how many times I performed this robotic surgery? Well, more than 3,500.” And the doctors there at the time had collectively done many thousands of these urologic operations.
The surgery went smoothly and I was discharged the next day. Although it was a shorter stay than when I was there in 1955, it was still a positive experience. The hospital has obviously changed since my previous stay. It's a large, complex medical institution now.
As an immigrant to the U.S., I've been totally enamored with this country since I arrived. There were opportunities and kindness everywhere. Institutions like City of Hope reinforced that thought. It was another way of showing me that this is really a wonderful country.