A Hospital Reunion, Decades in the Making

When Matt Kocher and Victor Flinko met nearly 20 years ago during their treatments at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, then located in the Oakland neighborhood, they had no reason to believe that they would someday meet again. Their shared hospital experience left a mark on each, though, and just recently, they reunited unexpectedly in a very familiar place:  at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in Lawrenceville, during a workday.

A Shared History

Victor was diagnosed with leukemia at 4 years old and went through rounds of radiation and chemotherapy. After a year, his cancer had relapsed and he needed a cord blood transplant, which he received from an anonymous donor.

He then developed graft-versus-host disease, a complication that can occur after a transplant. The donated stem cells eventually become mature blood cells, but sometimes they attack the recipient’s cells. After a three-month recovery, he was able to leave the hospital.

Around the same time, at 11 years old, Matt experienced symptoms he and his parents thought pointed to a viral infection. He was ultimately diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a type of cancer that starts in the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. He underwent rounds of chemotherapy and received a bone marrow transplant from his sister, Kristina, after a few weeks in the hospital.

During their time at Children’s Hospital together, Victor and Matt’s patient rooms were next to each other. They became fast friends, went to Dave and Buster’s together, and bonded — then, as often happens, when they both recovered, they went their separate ways and lost touch.

Reunited Friends

Fast forward to 2024: Matt Kocher, MD, anesthesia fellow, was working in the Operating Room at UPMC Children’s when small talk led to a big discovery. Alexis Mamros, RN, professional staff nurse, asked Dr. Kocher about his childhood cancer experience. As he spoke, it rang a bell with Alexis — it sounded like the story one of her co-workers, Victor Flinko, BSN, had from when he was young.

She connected the two, who had actually worked together several times in the OR without realizing their decades-old connection. It began to come flooding back: the days in the hospital, the trip to Dave and Buster’s, the old photos together.

“I never made the connection,” said Dr. Kocher. “I heard Victor’s full name, but it didn’t click until Alexis brought it up and things came back to me. There is a reason for everything.”

Paying It Forward

Both Victor and Matt were so affected by the care they received at Children’s Hospital as kids, they had chosen to pursue careers in health care. The nurses who took care of Victor were his role models. He attended Community College of Allegheny County and had the opportunity to work as a patient care technician at UPMC Children’s and has since become a nurse in the Operating Room.

From his experience, Matt knew he wanted to go to medical school and learn about the different areas of specialty he could pursue. He gravitated toward the anesthesia service line. He completes his fellowship this summer and will be starting his rotation as a clinician in July.

With their expertise and dedication, Matt and Victor contribute to UPMC Children’s reputation as one of the best children’s hospitals in the country. UPMC Children’s treats children with conditions ranging from diabetes and heart defects to asthma, cancer, and brain injury. With your support, we can increase our ability to deliver groundbreaking care, treatment, research, and cures for countless children.