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Biological scientist gives woman chance to beat blood cancer with stem cell transplant

Feb 27, 2024 by Gift of Life Donor Story

Carlos was crossing Landis Green during his junior year at Florida State University when he saw a booth for Gift of Life Marrow Registry. He was interested in learning more and decided to check it out.

“I joined the registry because I wanted to help those in need,” said Carlos. “I thought that if it was just a cheek swab and donating stem cells, then I should do it. I don’t have a personal connection, I wanted to help someone who really needed it.” 

It was not long before Carlos had that opportunity. A little less than two years later, he got a phone call while at work-- it was Gift of Life.

“When I first received the call that I was a match for a 28-year-old woman diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, my first reaction was happiness mixed with anxiety,” said Carlos. “I was glad I was picked, but I didn’t know it would be so soon, and I was unsure if I would be able to do it.”

Carlos consulted with his partner, Harley, and his parents, to get their reactions.

“When I told Harley, they were excited for me and supported me in donating,” said Carlos. “Harley helped calm my nerves after I told my parents, who were skeptical at first because they were looking out for me. After my parents learned more about the process, I was able to convince them it was a good thing.”

“My boss was understanding, and one of my co-workers said it was an honor to do something like this,” Carlos added. “My parents checked in on me a lot, and my partner was the most supportive, saying that I should be proud, and that donating is a big deal.”

I can sympathize with the struggle of finding a match with someone of similar ethnicity...To those of you who are waiting for a donor, do not give up yet – even if it is a low chance, every day is a new day.

Gift of Life arranged for both Carlos and Harley to travel to South Florida, where they stayed in a resort on Delray Beach as Carlos prepared for the donation. Donors are allowed to bring a companion with them to their collection day, and Gift of Life pays travel and hotel expenses, as well as giving a meal stipend.

On the morning of the donation, a driver brought them to the Adelson Collection Center at Gift of Life’s headquarters in Boca Raton. Carlos was donating peripheral blood stem cells, where blood is drawn from one arm and passes through an apheresis machine where the stem cells are centrifuged and collected. The remaining blood is warmed back to body temperature and returned to the donor via their other arm.

“During the donation we just sat and watched, ‘How to Get Away With Murder’ on Netflix,” said Carlos. “The donation was definitely better than I expected, it felt like a blood donation, and I had done everything right beforehand, like drinking extra water, so the process went quickly and smoothly.”

After the collection, Carlos “felt good and accomplished,” but decided to rest at the hotel for a few hours before exploring the Delray Beach area.


Carlos puts a pin in his home city on the map as partner Harley looks on. 

Because matches are based on genetic factors, it is likely that Carlos’s recipient shares similar ancestry to his Puerto Rican and Dominican heritage. Unfortunately, only 48% of patients who have Hispanic or Latino origins are able to find a matching donor, because the registry is not yet diverse enough for every patient to find a match.

“I understand the struggle to find someone who shares a similar cultural background, and building a community with people like yourself,” said Carlos. “I can sympathize with the struggle of finding a match with someone of similar ethnicity. Donors should sign up for the registry because of this, we are all in this together, and helping someone who can share their experiences with you is a deep bond. To those of you who are waiting for a donor, do not give up yet – even if it is a low chance, every day is a new day.”

Not only is Carlos thinking about the impact on his recipient and her family, but he also feels that donating has made a change in him as well.

“This experience has helped me confirm something that I’ve doubted about myself – that I am a good person, and that every life has meaning,” he said. “Deep down, I think I knew this was true, but donating helped me put into perspective what that means. I want to meet my recipient after the anonymity period is over, I want to know the kind soul that I helped, and how they have continued living life.” 

He also has words of encouragement for those who may be unsure about donating, saying “Being a donor gives one something that not many people get the chance to do: be a hero and save a life.” 

Carlos, 23, is a biological scientist living in Tallahassee, Fla. He graduated from Florida State University with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, and resides with his partner, Harley. Carlos enjoys playing video games, Dungeons & Dragons, gardening and reading in his free time.