Finding Love at an ISTH Congress: Cecile Denis and Peter Lenting Remember the Spark That Began Their Relationship
The ISTH 1999 Congress in Washington, D.C., marked an ending: the final ISTH event of the millennium. However, for Cecile Denis, Ph.D., and Peter Lenting, Ph.D., the ISTH 1999 Congress marked the beginning: the first meeting that led to a relationship, which has withstood long distances and lasted more than 20 years.
In 1999, following the Congress Opening Ceremony, Lenting, a Dutchman, sought out a French colleague, Olivier Christophe, Ph.D., and found him already in conversation with some of his friends, Denis among them. Christophe had completed his Ph.D. with Denis in France before moving to the Netherlands to work in a lab with Lenting.
Together, the group decided to go out to a pub following the Opening Reception. Despite an 8 a.m. Oral Communication presentation on Factor VIII the next morning, Lenting agreed to go out with his new friends, “just for one beer,” he said. However, once they reached the pub and he began to talk with Denis, he stayed much longer.
“I didn’t sleep much that night. That’s for sure,” Lenting said. Still, he thinks his presentation went fine with Denis in the audience.
“I got up early to see his presentation, although I wasn’t interested at all in Factor VIII,” she said.
The two spent quite a bit of time together at the Congress getting to know each other, but the possibility of continuing the relationship seemed quite far-fetched. At the time Denis was working in Boston in the U.S. and Lenting was in Amsterdam.
“We were living a continent apart,” Denis explained. “It was the meeting where we met, but nothing really happened then; maybe a little crush. Since we could not even imagine that something was possible, we didn’t invest.”
Still, there was a spark and a key moment that made Denis think it may have been in their destiny to meet. The ISTH 1999 Congress Party was at the National Air and Space Museum. While perusing through the gift shop, Denis and Lenting found some astrological charm bracelets, which led them to discover they were both Scorpios. Then, they realized that they were not only born in the same month, but on the same date and in the same year as well.
“I was a bit in shock,” Denis recalled. “I said, ‘This is not true!’ I didn’t believe him, and I made him show me his passport.”
Remarkably, the coincidence was indeed true, and it was not the last time the stars would align to bring them together. A few months later, Blood published an article where they realized they were actually co-authors on a collaborative study without even knowing each other.
“There were a lot of coincidences that brought us together,” Lenting said.
A couple years later, Denis returned to Europe, and they both served on a consortium about von Willebrand disease. Then, at the ISTH 2001 Congress in Paris the couple really began to get serious about their relationship.
“We thought it was destiny, almost,” Denis said. “Born on the same day, the same year; working on the same protein.”
By 2004, the couple had married, but the relationship remained long distance with Denis in France and Lenting in the Netherlands. They met two weekends per month until 2009 when Lenting joined Denis at Inserm where they now serve in the same lab working toward new treatments for von Willebrand disease.
The relationship has had its challenges, but whether they were managing a long-distance marriage or navigating marriage both at work and at home, the couple’s love has withstood the test.
“We know what we have traded for,” Denis said. “We work better together than apart. We have different qualities at work that are quite complimentary.”
In one more coincidence, Christophe, the colleague that first introduced the couple, also works in the same lab where they continue building upon the conversations that started at the ISTH Congress Opening Ceremony in 1999.
“Sometimes when we have a fight, we can blame Olivier,” Denis joked.
A Few Words of Advice to ISTH Congress Attendees
For those who may be looking for love or perhaps just friendship at an ISTH Congress, Lenting offers this advice: “Go to the pub,” he says, irrespective of whether you have a presentation the next morning. “What is nice is the social interactions. Have an open mind. Talk to people and walk around and meet people.”
Though it is not possible during the virtual-only meetings, Denis also encourages everyone to attend the social events when possible.
“Many people do not do the social events like the Opening Ceremony or the farewell party, and it’s a pity. At the end of the meeting, your head is filled with science and about to explode,” she said. “By that time everyone is ready to open up and completely liberate. So do not hesitate to go to the ISTH social networking events because they are really fun.”
The couple noted that the ISTH 1999 Congress was actually the fourth ISTH meeting that they both attended. The first three occurred without a chance meeting. So, for those that don’t meet the love of their life the first time, there’s always next time.
“Keep coming back,” Lenting said. “That’s the message.”