Today, Rodrigo Nuñez, R.N., steps through City of Hope's doors to start his workday as a nurse caring for patients who undergo hematopoietic cell transplantation, also known as bone marrow transplantation.
But once, more than three decades ago, he entered the institution for the first time for a much more personal reason.
The native of Mexico had traveled to the U.S. to work in 1977, making a living in Northern California picking fruit. Working under the hot sun could be draining. But within a few months, when he experienced extreme exhaustion, bruising and frequent nosebleeds, he knew something was wrong.
He was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a disease in which bone marrow cannot produce enough healthy blood cells. His hospital referred him to City of Hope's bone marrow transplant program, which had begun in 1976.
City of Hope staff arranged to test his family in Mexico to see if anyone was a match for tissue donation. Two of his brothers were compatible, and Nuñez was soon to become one of the first several hundred among the 11,000 transplants in the history of City of Hope's hematopoietic cell transplantation program.
When he thinks back to those difficult days, he remembers the compassion of City of Hope nurses from the moment he arrived. "One of the nurses gave me her lunch because I had arrived after mealtime," he said. "I was so grateful, I told her, 'I am going to be just like you: I am going to become a nurse.'"
Clinical social workers found a host family nearby to take in Nuñez. The family members welcomed him to live in their home as long as he was pursuing an education. Thanks to their kindness, he enrolled in high school, striving through classes taught in English. He eventually worked his way through Pasadena City College and received his degree in nursing in 1988.
"The first day that I started working at City of Hope, I was taking care of a young guy in the same room that I was in. I felt like the luckiest guy, to be on the other side and to be able to give something back," he said.
Nuñez remains free of his disease, but grateful for the path it led him on. He raves about the nurses he works with, citing their generous nature.
"They are special people," he said. "I love working here."