Lakerthon is an annual event at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in support of children’s health care issues. Participating groups make presentations about various nonprofits and charities, and in February 2020, undergrad Annabelle was deeply impressed by the one made by Gift of Life Campus Ambassadors Jocelyn Messer and Gabrielle Garlicki.
“My best friend’s little brother had cancer and someone donated stem cells to him,” she said. “He has been cancer-free for two years.”
Only ten months later, in January 2021, Annabelle received an unexpected phone call from Florida.
“I happened to be at work on campus, but because of COVID it had been very slow and my boss let me take the call,” Annabelle said. “I was in total shock! I kept asking my donor services coordinator, ‘Is this for real?’ I just couldn’t believe it.”
It was real – Annabelle was a match for a man in his early 70s battling myelodysplastic disorder, a type of blood cancer that can progress to become leukemia. Annabelle flew to Florida with her mom to donate at the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Gift of Life-Be The Match Collection Center at our headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla. Donors who have their collection at our center stay in an elegant hotel on Delray Beach, where they can enjoy what we call a “donation vacation.”
“I watched TV with my mom during the donation, which was very short,” said Annabelle. “The nurses were surprised I was completed so quickly. Afterward we had a delicious lunch and dessert, went for a walk on the beach, and watched movies all night in the hotel room. I had no recovery time and felt normal as soon as I was done donating.”
“I told my family, friends and roommates the news and their reaction was really exciting for me,” said Annabelle. “My boss was completely understanding about me taking time off, and my professors offered extra time away if I needed it for recovery. Thankfully, I felt great right away.”
Annabelle took time during her donation to send her recipient a card; communication is anonymous for the first year after the transplant. In the future the two may be able to learn each other’s identities and exchange greetings, or even meet in person.
“I never thought I would be able to help someone in such an impactful way,” said Annabelle. “I always wanted to save a life, but I thought that was just a silly dream and would never happen. Donating stem cells gave me the chance to accomplish that goal. I feel so grateful to have been given this opportunity, more than anyone can know.”
She also has a piece of advice for anyone thinking of joining the registry. “Being a donor isn’t scary, and especially if you know you are a rare or unique ethnicity, sign up because so many people out there could use someone like you to save their life.”
Annabelle is a junior at Grand Valley State University majoring in Speech Language Pathology. She loves to listen to music and hang out with her friends, and in the summer her favorite place is the beach – no wonder she loved her donation vacation so much!