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Life-Saving Airman, Leukemia Patient Meet for First Time

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A US Airman, fresh from basic training and now serving overseas, meets the young Korean leukemia patient whose life he saved by donating his rare blood type.

Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, (CMN) November 21, 2008 -- A local Korean woman and the Wolf Pack Airman whose blood donation saved her life, met for the first time when she visited Kunsan Air Base Nov. 21, 2008.

Airman meets Korean leukemia patient
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Airman Tamarias Pope, 8th Security Forces Squadron, met up with 22-year-old You Jin Pak, allowing the 19-year-old Airman to put a face to the person his life-saving donation reached.

"Meeting her was a really good experience," said Airman Pope. "Most people that give blood don't really get to meet the person that they saved. Meeting her felt really good. "She looked healthy; she looked happy. That made me happy."

Airman Pope's role in helping Ms. Pak began Oct. 8 when Dr. Sung Kwang Park from the Chonbuk University Hospital in Jeonju, Republic of Korea called the 8th Medical Group at Kunsan. Dr. Park had a patient in his care suffering from acute myeloid leukemia. She had recently undergone a bone marrow transplant and was in urgent need of blood.

"Ms. Pak was in dire need of a blood transfusion," said Capt. Kevin Blackney, 8th Medical Group. "She had a rare blood type among the Korean population that was more common among Americans."

After conducting a search of the wing's medical records Airman Pope was the first person identified with the matching blood type. Calls were made to Airman Pope's squadron who contacted the Airman at his dorm room. At the time Airman Pope was off duty and sleeping but still quickly returned Captain Blackney's call.

"He called back and within about five hours of his phone call he was up and donating blood at the Chonbuk University Hospital," said the Captain.

The first meeting between patient and Samaritan took place at the 8th SFS headquarters. Customary greetings and bows were exchanged as well as a more informal hug between two strangers whose lives became intertwined after a simple call for help.

Ms. Pak, her parents and Dr. Park were then given a quick tour of the base. They were shown around the security forces building before heading to an entry control point where Airman Pope explained some of his daily duties. The next stop on the tour was the 35th Fighter Squadron where Ms. Pak was fitted with a personalized flight suit and jacket. The tour ended with a visit to the flightline where she got to climb into the cockpit of an F-16 Fighting Falcon. "I had a lot of fun," said Ms. Pak through an interpreter. "It was a thrilling experience for me to visit the airbase."

The highlight of her day with the Wolf Pack was climbing into the F-16, something she ordinarily would not have had the opportunity to do. "It's rare for civilians to come on base," she said. "When I was in the cockpit, I wanted to fly."

Before leaving the base, the party headed over to the 8th Fighter Wing Headquarters where they were met by Col. J.D. "Wolf" Harris, 8th Fighter Wing commander and Col. Pete "Viper" Gersten, 8th Operations Group commander.  "It's rare when someone donating blood gets to meet who they actually give it to," said Colonel Harris. "The entire Kunsan community came together both on the air base and downtown to make this happen.  Both Airman Pope and Ms. Pak received commander's coins from Colonel Harris, who commented that Airman Pope's selfless act was not rare in the Air Force. "I've seen this from Airmen for more than a decade and I'm proud to be serving with them, side by side."  Dr. Park also had plaques for Airman Pope and Captain Blackney to thank them for their help in saving the young woman's life.

Ms. Pak's visit to the base ended as it began, with bows and hugs. But also with a new friendship blossoming between one young Korean woman and one young American Airman.

Though it was his first time giving blood, Airman Pope had the chance to see what most people don't--the direct impact his donation made. It won't be his last.  "I saved someone's life," he said. "I'm glad I did it, and I will be doing it more often now."

Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, is home to the 8th Fighter Wing, known as the "Wolf Pack." Located seven miles west of Kunsan City, the base is on the west coast of the peninsula near the Kum River estuary.

The 8th Fighter Wing is assigned to Seventh Air Force, headquartered at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea. Seventh Air Force falls under Pacific Air Forces, which is headquartered at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.

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