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California man saves life of leukemia patient and renews his commitment to help others

Jan 31, 2023 by Gift of Life Donor Story

Harrison was working at William Morris Endeavor in New York City when his firm held a "Swab At your Job" drive to recruit new donors for Gift of Life Marrow Registry.  

“People were coming around explaining about the registry, and I’ve never shied away from opportunities to help others,” said Harrison. “I said, ‘Yes, absolutely’ and swabbed.”  

The swab kits used to register donors are tested to determine their Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) profile, the immune system factors used to match donors with recipients. The closer the match, the more likely a transplant will be successful. 

Two years later, Harrison had relocated to California when he received that special phone call from Gift of Life: he was a match for a man in his 70s battling Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. 

“My girlfriend’s brother had recently donated through Gift of Life, and I was talking to him about it at around the time I learned I was a match,” said Harrison. “It was fresh in my mind, so when I learned I was a match, I didn’t need to mull it over too long before saying yes.” 

Harrison’s girlfriend Jessica was super positive about him donating and agreed to join him as his companion. For three days before flying to Florida, Harrison received a shot of Neupogen once a day to help move the stem cells from his bone marrow into the circulating blood for collection. Two more shots round out this pre-collection treatment, one on day four, and the last one right before donating. Neupogen has been used safely for more than 25 years as part of the blood stem cell collection process. 

The whole donation experience is 100% worthwhile, I would absolutely do it again.

After arriving in Florida, Harrison and Jess found that there was plenty to do while waiting for donation day to arrive. 

“We relaxed by the pool, got a beach cabana, walked around the Delray Beach shopping area, and went to the movies,” said Harrison. “I was a bit sore from the Neupogen, but I found out why when I donated – they said I had produced five times the amount of stem cells needed! I knew my recipient was fighting leukemia, but who he was didn’t matter, I just knew that I was going to do what I could to help.” 

“The actual experience was super easy,” he added. “It went way faster than I expected, we had a nice donor suite in a corner and just chilled and watched some TV.” 

He also found that family, friends, and coworkers were proud of him and supportive of him helping a stranger. 

“I honestly didn’t think of it as something to be impressed by; it’s just something you do,” said Harrison. “When I was younger, I was an Eagle Scout, and I always had a sense of the importance of giving back to the community and helping others. As an adult we find there’s less time to do community projects, so this was a good opportunity for me to renew my determination to help people.” 

“About a month after I donated, a friend also donated, so I’m all for it and definitely encourage people to sign up,“ said Harrison. “The whole donation experience is 100% worthwhile, I would absolutely do it again."

Harrison, 28, is an account manager who graduated from Quinnipiac University, where he was a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity. He enjoys movies, hanging out with friends, hiking, tennis, and has played pickleball since he was in high school. He wants to thank Jess for going to Florida with him – he couldn’t have done it without her. 

Harrison's swab kit was sponsored by the LionTree Donor Circle.