Attorney donates stem cells twice to save the life of a patient battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
When Jennifer saw Gift of Life Marrow Registry volunteers swabbing new donors at Tulane Law School in February 2011, it reminded her she’d once had a childhood friend who had been diagnosed with leukemia. She decided joining the registry would be a good thing to do, but never really expected to be someone’s match, or to ever know another person with blood cancer.
In 2015, the devastating impact of the disease became clear to her when family friend Judge Carl Fox was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a bone marrow cancer. During law school Jennifer had served as an intern for Judge Fox, and her family visited him during his illness. “The fit, 200+ pound guy I knew was gaunt and weak. When I left the hospital that night I thought that was the last time I would see Carl,” said Jennifer. Judge Fox was fortunate enough to receive a cord blood transplant and fully recover his health. He has gone on to advocate for African-Americans to join the registry and save the lives of others. (Learn more about the need for diversity in the registry here.)
Fast forward to December 2018: Jennifer received that incredible phone call from Gift of Life to say, “You’re a match for a patient. Would you agree to help save her life?” Jennifer was a tissue-type match for a woman battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“It wasn’t a decision, I took lightly, but I also didn’t hesitate to say yes,” said Jennifer. “My recipient was 50 and I kept thinking of my own mom who is 65, and how upset I would be if I had been robbed of the last 15 years with her.” Now working as an attorney, her company fully supported her decision and arranged her schedule to allow for the medical exam and day of collection.
To prepare for the donation, scheduled in March 2019, Jennifer received five injections of Neupogen® to encourage her hematopoietic stem cells to move from her bone marrow into her circulating blood stream, where they would be easy to collect. During the apheresis process, the stem cells are separated out and collected, while the remaining blood is returned to the donor.
Although Jennifer felt slightly achy as her stem cells mobilized, once the donation started she watched TV and talked to her mom for the time it took for collection to be completed. After the procedure, the package of cells was hand-carried by a courier directly to the transplant center where the patient was being prepared to receive them.
Jennifer’s family and friends were not shy about telling her how proud they were, but they soon had reason to be even prouder: Gift of Life called her again in late May to ask if she would donate white blood cells (leukocytes) to aid in her recipient’s recovery. Jennifer was thrilled to do so, and since the white blood cells circulate in the blood in large numbers no Neupogen was needed this time.
“The people at Gift of Life have been awesome, providing me with the information and support I needed throughout the process.” said Jennifer.
If both donor and recipient reside in the United States, they may send anonymous communications, such as letters or cards. After the first year passes, if both agree, they can exchange contact information or meet in person. “I plan to write to my recipient and give her the encouragement and support she needs to keep up the fight,” said Jennifer. “I would love to meet her; we’re bonded for life now.”
Jennifer also has a message for anyone wondering whether they should donate bone marrow or stem cells. “I think there’s a big misconception that you will be out of commission for several days after,” she said. “It really is an easy process with little to no downtime. While I was a slightly more tired, I was back to fighting form within two days. It’s a small sacrifice on the part of the donor, and can change someone’s life.”
Jennifer lives in Brooklyn and in her free time enjoys travel, visiting museums, and exploring new restaurants.