On July 19, 2011, Brandon learned about a life goal he had never imagined before.
“I was a camp counselor at Ramah Day Camp in Nyack, N.Y., and someone came in to speak about joining Gift of Life Marrow Registry,” said Brandon. “In the moment when he explained the process, I wanted this to be a bucket list item for me. I really wanted to be picked as someone’s matching donor someday.”
Brandon swabbed his cheek, completed the health questionnaire, and joined Gift of Life – and then forgot about it for a few years. He later became friends with another young man named Brandon, who happened to be the son of Gift of Life’s Associate Director of Development, Mindy Ginsberg.
“It was kind of cool how this came back into my life, when I learned who my friend’s mom is,” he said. “I told her it would be great if I could donate stem cells someday. Then I got a phone call that I was a match. It was December 2021, and I couldn’t believe I was being picked!”
Matches between donors and their recipients are based on immune system factors inherited from our parents and ancestors. Without this match, a transplant will not work. Donors are typically asked to give a second cheek swab, or sometimes a blood test, to confirm that they are the best match for the patient.
“I was working when I got a phone call that I was a match for a woman in her 50s battling leukemia,” said Brandon. “I just couldn’t believe it! I felt both humbled and special, and I knew immediately that this was my first priority – I was giving part of myself to someone else. I started taking the best care of myself I could, working out, and being extra healthy so there would be no roadblocks in giving my recipient the stem cells.”
Brandon, who is originally from South Florida, lives in Austin, Texas now, where he works in technology sales. His workplace gave him as much time off as he needed to make the donation.
“When I flew in for the donation everything was made really easy for me,” said Brandon. “The car service picked me up, I felt like a VIP – like precious cargo – it was nice. And then when I saw the collection center I was really impressed, I didn’t realize how state-of-the-art and beautiful the center was until I arrived. I felt like I was in the future.”
The stem cell collection process is typically four to six hours, which worried Brandon a bit as he is uncomfortable around needles. And purely through coincidence, Brandon’s donation was scheduled on his birthday, so the collection center staff brought him cake during his donation.
“I was nervous, but felt like there was no better way to spend my birthday” said Brandon. “They said, ‘There’s an X-Box and you’re going to be able to eat’ but I decided not to do anything, I turned on the 8-part documentary on Tom Brady and watched it. Then about three hours in they told me I was done, and I felt like a superhuman. I would definitely do it again.”
After donating Brandon posted about it on social media to share his experience with family and friends.
“I wanted people to see how powerful it is to swab their cheek,” he said. “Donating has given me a lot, it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done. Yes, I’m giving my recipient the stem cells, but the impact it has had on me, well, I almost feel guilty because of how great an experience this was – and I haven’t even met her yet!”
Meeting your recipient is allowed in the United States after the required anonymity period expires one year after the transplant, but only if both parties agree. Brandon is already certain he would like to meet his recipient if she is willing.
“This person has my blood stem cells, she’s my family now,” he said. “We share something that I’m not going to have with my kids or anyone else – we have a unique bond that is inexplicable.”
Brandon is also certain that he would donate again if asked.
“I feel lucky that I got to do this,” said Brandon. “A lot of people never get to cross items off their bucket list, and this is something I’m always going to have. It’s hard to explain the gravity of donating, but if you’re able to give someone a second chance at life, it’s the greatest experience of your life.”
Brandon graduated from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla., where he was a member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity. He now works in technology sales in Austin, Texas, where he enjoys playing sports in his free time, and hanging out with his dog Zeke, who wakes him up early every morning and commands him to go to the park.