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From donor to employee: man donates stem cells then joins the Gift of Life team

Mar 15, 2023 by Gift of Life Donor Story

Ethan was attending a youth group senior function in Glendale, Colo., when he swabbed to join the Gift of Life Marrow Registry. 

“It was an easy decision,” said Ethan. “I was perfectly happy to join as a donor. My grandmother had non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but that wasn’t on my mind when I swabbed my cheek.”

Six years later, Ethan received a call from Boca Raton, Fla. saying he was a match for a man battling Acute Myelogenous Leukemia who needed blood stem cells as his best hope of a cure. 

“I was at home when I got the call,” said Ethan. “I was excited. A couple times a year I would wonder if I would ever get a call. There’re definitely some mixed emotions to it, because there’s someone who’s sick and desperate to stay alive – so I guess excitement is a weird thing to feel. But, I was glad that there was a match and I’m someone who was happy to do it.”

Ethan told his girlfriend Jenna immediately as soon as he got off the phone, and they both traveled to Gift of Life’s collection center for Ethan’s blood stem cell donation. Gift of Life arranged for their accommodations, as well as their flights. 

“We didn’t know anything about Delray Beach before staying there, but the hotel was comfortable, my girlfriend enjoyed the pool, we met some of the other people there which was nice, and we then ate our way through Delray,” said Ethan. “We knew there was a chance that Neupogen [a medication used to help mobilize donor’s stem cells] might make me uncomfortable, but fortunately it didn’t bother me much. We went to Everglades City, we’re national park people so we signed up to do an airboat tour, and it was great, we learned a lot. We spent a day in Miami, had a beach day, got super sunburned, and ate tons of good food.” 

During the collection process, stem cell donors are fully awake and able to talk, read, and watch movies. Once the required number of cells have been collected, donors go home and most return to work the next day. Collection typically takes four to six hours, depending on the quantity of cells requested by the transplant center for the patient. 

Ethan’s Gift of Life story doesn’t end after his donation, though. As he worked full time at a summer camp, he decided to run a recruitment drive there, which quickly led to an invitation to join Gift of Life’s staff.

“Spring of last year, I realized ‘I work at summer camp with 150 college-age staff, I should run a drive,’” said Ethan. “I reached out to Gift of Life and they put me in touch with Recruitment Manager Brian Small. I guess he really liked me and my camp experience, as he put together a job for me where I work from my home town in Colorado to cover the west coast region for Gift of Life.” 

“My experience has been that this is a no brainer, it is definitely worth it,” said Ethan. “I want people to know that at no point for me was there any question about donating, and I hope other people can get in that mindset.”

Ethan, 26, lives in Colorado with his girlfriend Jenna. He is a graduate of Brandeis University and now works for Gift of Life Marrow Registry in donor recruitment. In his free time, Ethan enjoys taking care of his dog, hiking, and indoor rock-climbing. 

Ethan's swab kit was sponsored by the Union for Reform Judaism Donor Circle