Join Registry Give Now
Join Registry Give Now

Graduate, relocate, save a life! Stem cell donor does it all in ten days

Dec 07, 2022 by Gift of Life Donor Story

Avery had already heard of Gift of Life Marrow Registry when they were given the opportunity to join during their freshman year at Rutgers University. 

“There’s an Involvement Fair every fall showcasing the various organizations and clubs, and Hillel always has a booth for Gift of Life at the fair,” said Avery. “When I did the cheek swab to sign up I was thinking I’d want someone to donate to me if I ever needed it, so I should at least put myself on the registry, especially since I knew it was a situation where patients need a genetic match.” 

For transplants to work, the donor and recipient must share the same Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) profile, which is inherited from our parents and ancestors. The cheek swab is used to test for this profile, which is then entered anonymously in the worldwide database of volunteer donors. Transplant physicians use this database to search for those who are a close – or even perfect – match for their patient. 

Avery received a preliminary call only a month after joining the registry. 

“I was in a lab for one of my classes when Gift of Life called to say I might match someone,” said Avery. “But then I never heard more about that patient and did not donate that time.”  In this case, it is likely the patient chose a different form of treatment, or a closer donor match was found. 

Four years later, Gift of Life called again. This time Avery was the best match for a woman in her 70s battling Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, and the donation was definitely going forward. 

“I remember thinking, ‘I still want to do this,’” said Avery. “I decided to say ‘yes,’ and feel it’s important to pay it forward, it’s good to do something for others.”

“Donors have to get medical tests ahead of time, and my friend Pepper stuck by me the whole time,” said Avery. “She even came to my donation in Florida so I would have someone with me.” 

Avery’s family agreed that it was a good thing to do, and while discussing how rare it is to be a genetic match for someone else, the question came up of whether the recipient could possibly be an unknown distant cousin. It would take a genealogist to work that out, but decades of matching donors with recipients has told us that matching pairs usually have a shared ethnicity or genetic heritage. 

Although the scheduling for the donation was tight, it turned out the timing  would work perfectly. 

“I graduated from college in May, packed up and came home to Massachusetts, had a big graduation party, left for Florida the next day, and donated, all in about ten days” said Avery. “I joined the registry as a freshman and donated as a graduating senior, so It was like a bookend to my college experience.” 

Gift of Life stem cell donor Avery (l) and their donation day companion Pepper enjoyed their stay in Delray Beach while Avery saved a life. On donation day, Avery and Pepper spent the time at Gift of Life’s Collection Center in Boca Raton, Florida watching Netflix and chatting with the center’s staff to learn more about the process. After seeing Avery’s donation in person, Pepper asked for a swab kit and joined the registry on the spot. 

“I posted about donating and some people said, ‘Isn’t that just a blood donation?’” said Avery. “That gave me a chance to explain how it differed and what they could do to sign up.” 

“It was important for me to donate, especially at a time when my life is changing and I’m graduating college,” said Avery. “It’s important to do work in the community, but there’s a whole other level where you do something selfless, a mitzvah. It’s a moving experience and it allows you to help another person in an amazing and important way. In the end, it’s not much effort on your part to save another person’s life.” 

Avery, 23, majored in Astrophysics at Rutgers University, and is now taking a gap year with plans to attend graduate school next year. They are a member of Delta Lambda Phi Fraternity, and use their free time to enjoy cooking, hiking, and fencing – a sport Avery has trained in for more than 10 years.