Join Registry Give Now
Join Registry Give Now

Biomed engineering major donated stem cells, then became a Gift of Life Campus Ambassador

Aug 09, 2022 by Gift of Life Donor Story

Only a month into his freshman year at Rochester Institute of Technology in October 2019, Brendan ran across a table set up by Gift of Life’s then-Campus Ambassador, Walker Hare. Although he knew about bone marrow donation, Brendan had not heard that it has largely been replaced by the collection of blood stem cells from a donor’s arm. 

“It sounded simple and worthwhile to swab and add myself to the registry, so I hopped on,” said Brendan. “Even though no one in my family had blood cancer, I felt like it was something I didn’t necessarily need a personal connection for. If part of my body works and I can donate it to someone who needs it, why not? I’ve given blood many times so if I can do that, I can donate stem cells.” 

Brendan says that his first year of college was “a wild ride,” with a normal first semester, but a second semester interrupted by the emergence of the COVID pandemic in early 2020. And his year was about to get even more interesting! 

“College was out for the summer, and I was working two jobs – Home Depot full-time, and then Burger King, and also I was tutoring, so I was staying very busy and getting ready for the next semester,” said Brendan. “I was working at Home Depot when my phone rang, but I didn’t get the call until later when I could listen to voice mail and learned I was a match I felt like, ‘This is too good to be true!’ I knew the chances of matching were low, so I thought it was crazy that this would be real and I would get to donate.” 

Donating stem cells is something I consistently remember as a special, pivotal moment in my life, one of the most unique opportunities I’ve had. That’s why, two years later, I have committed to joining the Campus Ambassador Program and representing Gift of Life on campus.

“I called back and talked to donor services and learned I was a match for a man in his early 60s battling leukemia,” added Brendan. “Once I realized it was an actual opportunity, I was really excited.” 

It had only been eight months since he swabbed, and the donation was urgent; Brendan needed to give cells within just a few weeks. But with COVID putting a huge amount of pressure on medical resources at clinics across the country, scheduling him at a collection center on such a tight schedule proved to be challenging. 

However, both of his summer jobs were great about giving Brendan time off to travel to Virginia to donate, and his travel turned out to be easy as so few people were booking flights in July 2020. 

During his donation, Brendan talked to the nurses about the biology of what was happening and how the apheresis machine works – as a biomedical engineering major, he found the whole thing fascinating, and his interest did not wane in the months after donating.  

“Donating stem cells is something I consistently remember as a special, pivotal moment in my life, one of the most unique opportunities I’ve had,” said Brendan. “That’s why, two years later, I have committed to joining the Campus Ambassador Program and representing Gift of Life on campus. This is legitimately a gift that can positively impact someone’s health, longevity, and outlook on life. We haven’t had a representative at RIT recently, so I want to bring Gift of Life back to campus so others can have the same chance I’ve had.” 

Brendan realizes that other students harbor many misconceptions about donating, but as someone who has donated, he is up for the challenge of overturning myths with facts. 

“People assume that every procedure requires bone marrow, but I learned while swabbing that isn’t true anymore,” he said. “When I am talking to people and I get the chance, I try to expand their knowledge about donating stem cells, and how valuable a thing it is for people fighting blood cancer.” 

Brendan donated blood stem cells to save a man battling leukemia, and thought so highly of the experience he became a Gift of Life Campus Ambassador at Rochester Institute of Technology. Brendan will be getting on another plane for Gift of Life, this time to come to the Campus Ambassador Symposium in Boca Raton, Fla., where the organization has its headquarters. At the Symposium, Campus Ambassadors (CAPs) learn how to organize and promote a drive, how to partner with on-campus organizations to schedule educational presentations and recruitment drives, and more about the science behind blood stem cell and marrow donation. 

“Gift of Life is very good at making a life-changing procedure as simple and straightforward as possible, there are really no hoops to jump through,” said Brendan. “I’m looking forward to giving other RIT students the same incredible opportunity to save a life that I had.” 

Brendan, 21, is majoring in Biomedical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He enjoys running and is now in training for a marathon this fall. He also likes rock climbing and plays the viola with the university orchestra and string quartet. “Music is a great way to break up the math and physics,” he said. 

If you or a member of your family would be interested in becoming a Gift of Life Campus Ambassador, click here to learn more.