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Saturday, July 3, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`The Man Who Saved My Life'

AP

"IT'S MAGICAL," IRENE HOLAN SAID OF THE MEETING BETWEEN HER HUSBAND, A HOCKEY DEFENSEMAN, AND THE NUCLEAR ENGINEER WHO WAS A BONE-MARROW DONOR.

DUARTE, Calif. - Milos Holan smiled as his toddler son splashed gleefully in a fountain in the City of Hope's rose garden.

"I don't need anything else. I'm the happiest man on Earth, just to be here with my family and be healthy," Holan said softly.

Wife Irena kept an eye on 3-year-old Milos Jr. and 7-year-old Veronica, and said, "It's magical."

Three years ago, the former NHL defenseman was in agony in a City of Hope hospital room, undergoing radiation and chemotherapy.

"Every day I was so sick that I felt the next day would be my last," Holan said.

Yesterday in the rose garden, the strapping hockey player from the Czech Republic met the nuclear engineer from Jessup, Md., who donated the marrow that keeps him alive.

Holan and Robert Stransky Jr. shook hands, then bear-hugged.

"I just met the man who saved my life," Holan said. "If it weren't for him, I could not be here today, would not be in this life. It's amazing how the compassionate act of a complete stranger saved my life."

Stransky, sporting a pony tail and a couple of earrings, grinned and said, "It's no big deal. I just gave him some spare parts."

The 27-year-old Holan, looking as robust as when he skated in a combined 49 games for the Philadelphia Flyers and Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 1994-96, is playing hockey again in the Czech Republic and hopes to return to the NHL.

Although he felt no symptoms when he was diagnosed with the disease after a routine physical with the Mighty Ducks in 1995, Holan needed a transplant to live.

"I was scared of the word leukemia. I didn't know what it meant," he said.

He continued to play for the Mighty Ducks, and four months later, a marrow match - not perfect but close enough to try - was found. While donating blood, Stransky had decided to have his blood typed as a possible marrow donor.

Stransky, now 34, got a call that a match had been found and immediately went in for the simple donation procedure. The marrow was quickly flown to the West Coast and, within hours, Holan received the transplant.

"It's sort of like buying a lottery ticket; a million-to-one sometimes to find a match," Stransky said. "I guess I won."

Dr. Stephen Forman, who performed the operation on Holan in February 1996, said the transplant was high-risk because the marrow wasn't a perfect match. The majority of marrow transplants come from relatives, but there were no matches for Holan in his family.

"There were six months of complications, and it tested everything we could do," Forman said. While there are no guarantees, Forman said Holan isn't expected to have any more problems with the disease.

Milos Jr. was born while his father was in the hospital.

"I was so weak I couldn't even hold him," Holan said. "I was determined that I would get stronger."

While he was being treated at City of Hope in 1996, Holan befriended a cheerful young woman, Michelle Carew, who also had leukemia.

Despite a nationwide effort by her father, baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew, a donor match could not be found.

"She was very brave. I was in the hospital about two months when I was told that she had died," Holan said, speaking softly again. "In my home in the Czech Republic, I have a picture of me with Michelle and her family."

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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