Join Registry Give Now
Join Registry Give Now

Elon University student donates marrow to save baby battling leukemia

Feb 19, 2024 by Gift of Life Donor Story

In February 2022, Gift of Life Marrow Registry Campus Ambassadors at Elon University in North Carolina organized a swab drive with the Alpha Chi Omega sorority, registering 58 sorority members. One such member, Lili, remembers that day well.

“The Gift of Life ambassadors came to my sorority chapter meeting and informed us of what the organization does and how great the impact could be by just swabbing,” said Lili. “It was one of the easiest decisions of my life, joining the registry. I said yes. I guess I didn’t know how impactful that would be at the time.”

Just over a year later, Lili was back home for spring break when she received a call from Gift of Life.

“I was asleep when they tried to get in contact with me,” said Lili. “When I called back, they told me I was a match for a one-year-old boy battling leukemia. I was so surprised that I had matched at all, and I told them that yes, I would donate.”

Lili told her family shortly after the call ended, and they were all proud and supportive of her decision to save a life. Concerned about the time off from class she would need to take, Lili also informed her professors who were just as accommodating.

“All of my professors were understanding of the classes I had to miss and were eager to help me catch up on assignments when I got back,” said Lili. “The president of my university even emailed me with her support and well wishes which was something I didn’t expect to happen!”

While over 90% of donations are peripheral blood stem cell collections (PBSC), because of her recipient’s age, Lili was asked to donate marrow. This type of collection is recommended by transplant doctors only for specific patients – usually children. Bone marrow is collected during an outpatient procedure from the iliac crest of the pelvis while the donor is under general anesthesia.

Gift of Life coordinated with Lili to have her donate in Washington, D.C. Her mother joined her on the trip, and accommodations were provided by Gift of Life.

“The morning of my donation went by like a breeze,” said Lili. “Granted I got put under anesthesia and don’t remember a lot, but what I do remember is how nice and helpful the doctors and nurses were at the hospital, both before and after my donation.” After her collection, she was discharged the same day.

“I left the hospital around 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon that same day. While I was waiting, my mom brought me cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcakes,” said Lili. The bakery was made famous by the reality TV show DC Cupcakes. “I’ve always loved the show and have wanted to try their cupcakes, but I’d never had the opportunity until now!”

Lili’s recovery went smoothly, and, aside from some back discomfort immediately after the procedure, she was feeling back to normal within a couple of days.

She says that donating has changed her outlook on life.

“I was able to participate in something that is life-changing for either party involved,” she said. “I still get emotional thinking about how I was given the opportunity to give a family more time and the recipient a second chance at life. This experience will always be something that I remember for the rest of my life.”

After returning home, Lili said that her friends and family have ordered swab kits to join the registry, and she urges others to do the same.

“Even though it may seem scary and a little daunting at first, there will always be some kind of support system to get you through the process,” said Lili. “I had no idea what the process would even look like or what kind of procedure I would have to go through, but I just kept my head up because at the end of the day, you are doing something amazing and selfless for someone in need. The people at Gift of Life were absolutely phenomenal during the entire process. I would do it a thousand more times if I was able to.”

Lili, 20, is a full-time student at Elon University and a member of the Alpha Chi Omega sorority. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, cooking and baking.