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Advocate Spotlight: Bob Panza

Tell us about yourself:

I have been married to my lovely wife, Ann for almost 39 years. We are the very proud parents of two kids – Melissa and Nick. Both are married and we have been blessed with four beautiful grandchildren. I served as a municipal police department captain in Southern California for 30 years. I retired almost 11 years ago and am thoroughly enjoying life!

How did you connect with the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP)/Be The Match?

About 14 years ago, a fellow police officer’s teenage daughter, Brandii, was diagnosed with cancer. She and my daughter were close in age. Melissa and I worked with my department to organize a donor drive where we had close to 300 people join the Be The Match Registry.

Unfortunately, Brandii never found a match and she passed away in 2005. At the time, I was attending a training course at the FBI Academy. Brandii inspired me to organize a donor drive in her honor and we had about 250 more people join the registry.

Tell us about being a volunteer courier:

In 2006, the NMDP/Be The Match formed a volunteer courier program. Both Melissa and I attended the training. I have completed about 300 domestic courier trips and just returned from my 60th international trip. That is in excess of 1.5 million domestic and international miles in the air. My longest trip was from Western Australia to the East Coast of the United States, which was well over 2,300 miles in the air.

Modern long-haul airplanes carry over 300 passengers. When on those planes, I often think about the patients on the receiving end of one of those 300+ courier trips I’ve been privileged to complete. I visualize them sitting on the plane with me – men, women, children and infants. I am awestruck and humbled to think about them and their families. I am extremely grateful to be entrusted to play a small role in those people’s lives. Containing my enthusiasm and passion for what I do, is the only hard part.

Tell us about being an advocate:

Initially, I was a bit nervous simply because I wanted to be the best representative of the NMDP/Be The Match as I possibly could, so I put a lot of pressure on myself at first. But then I took a deep breath and let it sink in that I was advocating for a great cause which I believed in very deeply. Once I let that sink in and envelope me, I merely rehearsed what we had been taught back in September and my apprehension turned into sheer exhilaration, excitement and anticipation.

What has your work with lawmakers been like?

So far, there is one lawmaker who has committed to co-sponsoring HR 4215. I am continuing to reach out to the other three lawmakers and their staff members to keep HR 4215 on their radar. I believe my face to face meetings were critical in helping open the door to communication and personal connection, along with continued email contact since those meetings.

What advice do you have for those wanting to be advocates?

The best advice I can offer when advocating for the NMDP/Be The Match, is simple and is also the same best advice in how to live one’s life; BE YOURSELF. We are each endowed with our own unique personalities, painful experiences, fears and emotions. We all deeply believe in the mission we are jointly trying to achieve, so use your personal experiences regardless of their outcomes, to help get our message out to those empowered to act on them. In that way, those experiences and all those individuals we know and love who shared those experiences with us, can join in helping get that message out. In my situation, I am able to keep Brandii’s legacy alive and take comfort in knowing that her life has touched countless people whom she’ll never know.