This stranger could be anywhere in the world. This stranger could be a baker, an NBA player, or the next president of the United States. I could have passed this stranger on the street or asked this stranger for directions to the coffee shop last weekend. The possibilities are endless, but there are some things that I do know for sure: I share, with this stranger, the same HLA tissue type, proteins in the blood, allergies, immune system, and an everlasting friendship.
It all started with a simple cheek swab during my year abroad in Israel—no blood, no pain, no mess. Just a few quick cheek cells! I remember the day perfectly. We were thirty girls standing in the main room of our school, individually weighing the pros and cons of becoming part of the Gift of Life registry. I told a girl next to me “I hope to be a match” as I grabbed the STOP sheet to be cleared. Looking back, I said this knowing my chances were very slim. I filled out a sheet in block letters and filled in circles, parted with a few cheek cells, had trouble finding the q-tip’s placement in the foam like everyone else, sealed my envelope, and ran to class.
Fast forward less than a year later to my winter break of 2010. I was in Israel for vacation working with children flown in from Africa for medical care. My days were exciting but exhausting, and one night, I was tossing and turning in bed from being over-tired and jet-lagged. I heard my phone buzz and immediately opened the urgent email from Gift of Life. And I thought I was unable to sleep before receiving this email: “You have been identified as a potential match for a patient needing a bone marrow transplant.” I read the email over and over and thought that I was dreaming. With the time difference to my advantage, heart racing, and stubbing my toe on my way downstairs as proof that this was actually happening, I ran to call for more information.
The morning that I landed in New York, I had blood taken at a lab and my “potential match” was upgraded to a “complete match” a month and a half later. My thoughts turned from fear of the needle to fear of my power. I held the power to simply say the two-letter word “NO” and not go through with the donation. I held the power to possibly deny this stranger life. I also held the power to bring hope to this stranger, his family, friends, and community all rooting for his recovery. I stayed far away from the powerful two-letter word and after a complete physical and medical examination, the date for my bone marrow harvest was set.
The morning of April 7, 2011, came faster than expected. While waiting to be brought down to the OR, I had the opportunity to meet this man through a letter—the most special part of my donating experience so far. This is where his identity changed from a stranger to My New Friend. Although I had to hold back personal details due to confidentiality reasons, my thoughts and emotions poured into this letter. I wrote continuously until the nurse came to take me down to the OR. The doctor, medical team, and nurses took great care of me, and I cannot be prouder of the fading scar on my lower back.
I always wonder what My New Friend looks like, what his interests are, how he is feeling that day, and whether he wonders about me, too. The day that I was out of bed and back to my usual routine, I marked off the six month anniversary in my calendar and began my countdown to receive the half year update. I called the Gift of Life office in Florida on that exact day and, out of apprehensiveness, way before the offices opened. I cried with happiness and relief when I was told that My New Friend was discharged from the hospital, and I cannot wait for the year marker on April 7, 2012, when we can hopefully meet...121 days and counting...
From stranger to Friend, this man is the true hero. I recently wrote My New Friend another letter to wish him well, tell him that he is still in my prayers and thoughts, and let him know the impact that he has made. Because of My New Friend, I was found as a match from the Gift of Life registry and knew I had to do more. As a tribute to My New Friend, I organized a number of drives with two others this summer to help expand the registry and a five-mile run to raise funds for more swab kits to be processed. Because of my positive experience as My New Friend’s donor, I helped along a fellow donor in the deciding process. Because of this Everlasting Friend, a fellow donor saved a life, a match was found at one of our drives this summer, and hopefully more matches will be found from funds raised by the runners. My Everlasting Friend, who may be a baker, NBA player, next president of the United States, or stranger on the street, is a hero who accomplished more than most people do in a lifetime.