Japan disaster stirs Seattle memories of Chernobyl hero

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by GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @gchittimK5

KING5.com

Posted on March 24, 2011 at 5:44 PM

SEATTLE -- It was 1990.

Glasnost was a concept that was just getting its legs.

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center was a small neighborhood clinic doing groundbreaking cancer research.

That was the scene when a Soviet pilot stepped off a plane at Sea-Tac Airport and created a relationship that exists today. Anatoly Grischchenko was a former Soviet military pilot who was among a group of other elite pilots assigned to continually dowse the Chernobyl nuclear reactor which was melting down and spewing radiation into the jet stream.

That battle was won, but it was Grischchenko who needed to be rescued.

"He'd had chronic low blood counts," said Doctor John Hansen, the cancer specialist assigned to the case. "He had anemia for several months. He'd been in the hospital for several months for serious infections."

Despite his grave illness, the robust pilot kept a positive attitude and endeared himself to the staff as he fought against his illness. But he had received massive radiation exposure. He and his crew flew helicopters directly over the open reactor. He defeated that foe but was left with a new invisible enemy -- leukemia.

Seattle doctors successfully completed a bone marrow transplant, but it was too late. Grishchenko died three months later. But the lessons learned from his treatment helped forge a relationship between Fred Hutch and Chernobyl that exists today and may help fight the threat facing a new generation of nuclear heroes emerging in Japan.

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