Ryan was sleeping on his cousin’s couch when his cell phone rang. He wasn’t sure he should answer — he’d just fallen asleep after a 20-hour flight from Vietnam, where he’d spent the month of January 2016 studying business and learning about the culture. He didn’t recognize the caller’s number, but in spite of his hesitation, he somehow felt the call was important.
He picked up to find Gift of Life on the line, telling him he was a potential match for a patient with leukemia. Ryan was ecstatic. “Growing up I always wanted to be a doctor to help others and save lives,” he said. “After my first year of college I realized it wasn’t the right path for me, but I was sad about giving up the chance to save lives. When I got this call I realized that even though my path had changed, I could still impact others, I could still save someone’s life.”
Ryan had joined the bone marrow registry while serving as a staffer at URJ Camp in 2014. Gift of Life visits many camps during the summer months to explain to staff the urgent need for donors to help cure blood cancers, and offer them the chance to join the registry. His youth advisor in high school had also been a Gift of Life advocate, and was happy to hear from Ryan that he was a match.
Blood stem cell donations are prepared for with several Neupogen® injections, which help the donor’s stem cells migrate into the blood stream. After getting Neupogen® for four days, Ryan went to the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, accompanied by his Gift of Life Coordinator, for the apheresis procedure. Stem cells are separated out of the blood in a similar way to donating platelets, and the remaining blood is returned to the donor. Stem cells regenerate naturally within a few weeks.
“I felt well informed by Gift of Life and supported my parents,” said Ryan. “My mom posted something on Facebook and that just blew up with messages and comments – so many people said they had a relative who had cancer, or someone was a donor, and someone else received a transplant and is still alive years later. It was crazy to see how many people had this connection.”
Not only did Ryan find his generosity appreciated by his friends and family, he has taken on the role of inviting his peers to join the registry by becoming part of Gift of Life’s Campus Ambassador Program. After a training program in mid-August, over 100 Campus Ambassadors spread out across the United States to recruit new donors into the registry by setting up swabbing tables at events on their campuses.
“Joining requires nothing, just a couple minutes out of your day,” he tells others, “Just entering the database increases that chance that someone looking for match is able to have a second chance at life.”
Ryan is a junior in college, majoring in economics and applied mathematics. He loves sports, and plays football and soccer recreationally. He looks forward to the possibility of meeting his recipient someday.