Sharon Steiff was my eighth grade English teacher at Maimonides School in Brookline, MA. She was diagnosed with leukemia during my sophomore year of high school and passed away in January of my junior year after being unable to find a match for a bone marrow transplant. Gift of Life had tried to help in the search for her match, but I was not old enough to join the registry as a donor. In March of 2007, while studying in Israel, I was finally able to join the registry. At the time I thought, “I could be that gift my teacher never got.”
After registering as a donor, I kind of forgot about it and continued on with my daily life. All that changed in November 2007 during my first year at Yeshiva University. One morning while walking to class, my cell phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize. It was Gift of Life informing me I was a potential match for a patient. After some thought, I decided to go ahead with the next step in the process, which was giving blood samples to test just how close of a match I was. I later heard from Gift of Life that the patient’s doctor recommended another treatment instead of a transplant and that they would not need my donation. After a wave of relief swept over me, Gift of Life once again left my mind.
Until about a year later, that is: in November 2008, I got another call from Gift of Life asking me to donate for a different person in need of a transplant. I started to look for reasons why I shouldn’t donate, but in my mind I could never justify them. The pros kept outweighing the cons. The chance to save someone’s life is not something you get every day. I could give that gift my teacher never got. So I said yes.
My physical exam took place at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, where I would later be donating. My coordinator at Dana Farber took me through several tests, making me feel more and more like a human guinea pig. Several days after my physical, the results came back; I had been cleared to give stem cells. Suddenly, it all became real to me. I was actually going to donate. I had reached the point of no return.
It was the beginning of a new semester in a few days and I had to start making arrangements for my trip up to Boston. I had to inform my teachers that I was going to miss a week of school. They were very accommodating and supportive, allowing me to make up labs, quizzes, and tests and they all wished me good luck.
On February 2, my donation date, I woke up early and made my way to Dana Farber, where they took more blood to run even more tests. By half past eight that morning, I was hooked up to a machine that would filter stem cells out of my blood. Two movies, several phone calls, and six hours later, I was done. Although the procedure was not invasive (it required just two needles), it took a few days to regain full strength. Who would have thought watching movies for a few hours would be so exhausting?
I have to thank the Gift of Life for all the work they did. They arranged all of my appointments and covered all of the medical and transportation bills. My coordinator even flew up from Boca Raton, FL, because it is Gift of Life’s policy to have a representative present during every donation. They made sure everything ran smoothly and tried to make it as convenient as possible, while working around my schedule and within the timeframe they are given by the patient’s doctors. I should also mention the wonderful support I received from my family and friends, which definitely helped me get through the entire process.
Donating seems a lot scarier than it really is. If you believe that you don’t have the courage to do it, you would be surprised how that changes when you actually get the call telling you that you are someone’s last hope. You will find that inner courage, and it will help guide you. I had my moments of doubt, as I’m sure many other donors have. But remembering that you are giving someone the gift of life is the best motivation there could be.