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UC Davis law student who swabbed on Birthright trip saves a life just four months later

Oct 30, 2023 by Gift of Life Donor Story

While in Jerusalem on his Birthright Israel trip in June 2022, Tobias saw a presentation by Gift of Life Marrow Registry’s recruitment staff asking people to swab their cheek and join the registry for the chance to save someone’s life.  

“I had heard of the organization before,” said Tobias. “I thought it would be a good idea to be in the registry. I’m mixed race, and even then, I understood the importance of having my genetic makeup on the registry because it is so difficult for people to find matches. Most of us on that Birthright trip swabbed.” 

Four months later, in October, Tobias received a phone call from Gift of Life informing him that he had matched with a 66-year-old man battling acute myelogenous leukemia. 

“I was taking a gap year from university, so I was at home when I got the call, and I was shocked that I had matched so quickly,” said Tobias. “A month after I joined the registry, my father was diagnosed with lymphoma (but he is now in remission). In part because of his diagnosis, I was on board to donate marrow for my patient. I was pretty nervous but also excited about the opportunity, so I asked a lot of questions and made the decision to go through with it. You can’t let those anxieties get to you.” 

Because the best chance of finding a match is with someone who shares your unique genetic heritage, Tobias is grateful that he joined the registry when he did. 

“I’m a very unique mix,” said Tobias. “My grandfather is Jewish; my mother is from Iran. Because of the genetics of donating, there has to be some ethnic background similarity my recipient and I share. I know how rare it is for mixed people to find matches, so I’m glad I was there for my recipient.”

Marrow collection is an outpatient procedure used in less than 10 percent of transplants. It is completed in about two hours while the donor is under general anesthesia. Bone marrow is collected from the iliac crest of the pelvic bone. Most collection centers discharge donors the same day, and while they may feel achy for a few days, Tylenol is very effective. 

Gift of Life bone marrow donor Tobias is shown flashing a V for Victory sign after completing his marrow donation to save the life of a man battling to survive leukemia.

Gift of Life coordinated with Tobias to donate at the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. His travel and accommodations were paid for by Gift of Life and a food stipend was provided by the organization as well. 

“Gift of Life took great care of me,” said Tobias. “My donor services coordinator was very knowledgeable and answered all of my questions. Before the donation, she called me and made sure everything was going okay.” 

Most transplant centers send updates about the recipient over the course of the next year, and recently, Tobias learned from his donor services coordinator that his recipient is alive and doing well! 

Tobias also urges other people – especially those of mixed ancestry – to join the registry. 

“It can be difficult to trust the medical community, especially for groups that are historically disadvantaged,” said Tobias. “Despite that, or perhaps in spite of that, it’s important to trust in the other members of your community to help you, trust in your brother, your sister, to help you. Every single person that joins, including yourself, increases the chances of saving you, your family, and your community. I understand the distrust, I do, but I cannot stress enough the importance of moving past that and doing it for yourself and for your people.” 

Tobias, 24, is a law student at University of California, Davis having graduated from University of California, Los Angeles where he double majored in history and political science. Before beginning law school, he worked as a substitute teacher in San Francisco, Calif. In his free time, he enjoys skiing and listening to live music.