Former camp counselor donates bone marrow to save life of 13-year-old boy
Donating bone marrow was the best 45-minute nap of my life. –Aleksei
When Aleksei heard the representative from Gift of Life say that he had the potential to cure blood cancer, he knew he had to join the registry. It was 2015, and he was a camp counselor at Sunrise Day Camp, a specialized camp where children battling cancer and their siblings can experience the fun of summer camp in a supportive environment.
“I was 18 and it was my last year there as a camp counselor,” said Aleksei. “Gift of Life came in and explained about the transplant process, then asked if we wanted to join. I thought I might as well try to help someone else.”
Aleksei’s younger sister has lived with cancer since she was eight months old, an optic glioma brain tumor that is inoperable and affects her vision. Although they tried going to other day camps, it was difficult for his sister.
“Little kids immediately notice anything different. They don’t mean to be cruel, but they say whatever comes into their heads,” said Aleksei. “It was hard on her. Finding Sunrise was a huge blessing to us. It’s all kids with cancer and their siblings, so everyone understands each other.”
Having a family member with a chronic cancer has given him a unique perspective, and because everything had to be about taking care of his sister, he matured at a younger age.
“When someone is diagnosed with cancer, I have some insight into what happens, how to treat them, and how to offer support,” said Aleksei. “From the moment I swabbed my cheek I knew I would donate. I want to do it again if I match someone else. If I am able to help someone survive cancer, I want to do it.”
What about donating bone marrow, and during a pandemic? “I knew I was doing what is most important,” he said. “Donating bone marrow was the best 45-minute nap of my life.”
After donating at Hackensack Medical Center, Aleksei stayed with his mom and dad for a few days and “got some free dinners.” His friends were also supportive, and though he makes it clear he does not think of himself as a hero, they offered him plenty of congratulations.
“This is a good deed that anyone would do – anyone of good heart would donate bone marrow,” he said. “I feel grateful for the opportunity and pray and hope my recipient has the best possible outcome.”
Aleksei urges anyone who is wondering whether to join the registry to consider the patient’s perspective.
“Understand what this means, read about the experiences of donors, and look at what the patient and his/her family are going through,” said Aleksei. “You can afford to give up one day to give marrow or stem cells that are critical to someone’s survival and health. You have plenty of cells to spare – you can give up some of them. Doing it will make you happy for the rest of your life. Even if you never get to meet your recipient, you did something to change their life.”
Aleksei works in customer success and strategy at a visual/digital content tech startup. He majored in International Relations and Economics at Fairfield University , and is currently a resident of New York City. In his free time, he enjoys biking, running, soccer and other sports, as well as cooking and playing the guitar.