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Local doctor honored on 'Today' show for saving son's life

Photo Courtesy of Amy Hofmann
Grady Hofmann, 14, left, nominated his father, Dr. Rusty Hofmann, as a "Phenomenal Father" after he saved Grady’s life by donating his bone marrow.

On Father’s Day, Rusty Hofmann, M.D., was not only celebrated as a great dad by his family, he also was recognized nationally on the “Today” show.

The Los Altos resident was one of the dads featured on the NBC morning show’s “Phenomenal Fathers” segment. His 14-year-old son Grady nominated Hofmann for the honor – and with good reason. Hofmann saved Grady’s life by donating bone marrow to him.

“Because of my dad, I am alive today,” Grady wrote in his nomination letter. “He is not only the greatest dad, but he is also my blood brother.”

Grady fell critically ill five years ago. At first, doctors weren’t sure why.

“I looked at all these heads of departments in the room, and they had the look on their face that I never wanted to see,” Hofmann said in the “Today” segment that aired June 13.

While Hofmann’s medical knowledge certainly helped – he is head of interventional radiology at Stanford University Medical Center – it also took a toll on him.

“It was brutal,” he said. “I knew all the many complications that could occur once we started down the road.”

Doctors soon determined that Grady’s liver was failing and he had aplastic anemia, meaning his body could no longer produce blood cells.

Fortunately, Hofmann was among several doctors who knew of a procedure that could save Grady’s liver. But the aplastic anemia was trickier – it would require a bone-marrow donor.

The most important resource

Although parental matches are rare, Hofmann’s and Grady’s marrow proved nearly identical. The transplant was scheduled three days after Grady’s ninth birthday party.

“I was worried it was going to be his last,” Hofmann told “Today.”

The transplant was a success, and in April the Hofmanns celebrated the fifth anniversary of Grady’s procedure.

“This is not a celebration for just me, it is a celebration for my whole family,” said Grady, who has two older brothers. “I see my family as the most important resource I had available to me.”

After the diagnosis, mom Amy home-schooled Grady to prevent him from having to repeat a grade. Brothers Hayden and Baylor brightened his days with their company.

Grady said being on “Today” was a really special experience. When he was sick, the Hofmanns would watch the show every morning. He heard about the “Phenomenal Fathers” segment this year and knew he wanted to nominate his dad. Elated to discover he’d been selected, Grady said he knew he had the “best Father’s Day gift ever.”

“I liked sharing my story because I am really proud of my dad,” Grady said. “He took a bad situation and turned it into a good one.”

More positive outcomes

Hofmann not only helped heal his son – he is now responsible for helping more than 3 million people. The experience with Grady inspired him to co-found Grand Rounds, a health-care company that aims to simplify the process of matching patients with the best medical care possible.

“Once Grady got sick, I got to see in-depth the patient experience and realized how scary it is to be on the other side. … Someone needed to provide more for patients and doctors to deal with illness,” Hofmann said.

When Grady was ill, he spent a lot of time playing with Legos, so in his honor, “Today” donated $5,000 worth of Lego construction sets to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.

Grady – who graduated from Egan Junior High School in June and will attend Los Altos High in the fall – hopes to continue working with the hospital to increase Lego donations and is inspired to become a doctor one day.

“It’s not what happens to you in life that defines you, it is what you do about it that does,” he said.

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