When Zoe first learned that she had the potential to cure blood cancer if she was a match for someone, she knew she wanted to join the registry. It was October 2019 when a Gift of Life Marrow Registry Campus Ambassador spoke at her Zeta Tau Alpha women's fraternity meeting at Miami University of Ohio. She decided on the spot to swab her cheek and sign up.
“This was a small step to make a difference in someone’s life,” said Zoe. “The Campus Ambassador told us about the need to swab as many donors as possible to increase the chances of every patient finding their best match for a lifesaving transplant.”
Almost exactly two years after swabbing, in October 2021, Zoe got an unexpected message from a Florida phone number she didn’t recognize. The message said she could possibly donate blood stem cells to a man in his late 60s who was battling Acute Myelogenous Leukemia.
“I was actually in class when I got the message that I was a match,” she said. “When I heard the news my initial reaction, honestly, was shock. I never anticipated that I would be called, so I didn’t know what to think at first.”
Zoe told her roommates, who wanted to know more about how it would be determined if she was the best match for the patient. Her parents and family wanted to know more about the process, and after initially being nervous, were very excited for her.
“I got lucky and was able to donate during my university’s winter break, so I didn’t miss any school,” said Zoe. “The job I usually work at when I’m on school breaks was very supportive and thought it was fascinating that I was doing this.”
“My family members were really supportive of me,” said Zoe. “My older sister went with me to get my blood drawn, my dad went with me to the physical examination, and my mom, Sandra, ended up coming to Florida with me for the donation. She was always checking in with me to make sure I felt prepared and helped when arrangements were being made so that she and I had the best experience possible.”
“We traveled when the Omicron variant was really ramping up, so we tried to keep our activities outdoors,” said Zoe. “We ordered take-out and ate it in our hotel room, and at a few restaurants we were able to sit outside. We were very cautious about staying in good health.”
When donation day arrived, Zoe and her mom were picked up by the car service and driven to the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Gift of Life-Be The Match Collection Center. After meeting the staff and getting settled in the donor collection suite where she would spend the next few hours, Zoe was ready.
“The people at Gift of Life took incredible care of me,” she said. “Even before I arrived, they made sure to answer my questions and told me what to expect. During the donation I watched some movies and TV. They gave me aromatherapy, there was always someone checking in on me and getting anything I needed.”
Zoe has also come to feel the experience has a deeper meaning for her.
“Donating absolutely has changed me,” she said. “It made me realize that I really am capable of anything. I feel like I have a different outlook on life. Everything going on in the world makes it hard to find positives—this process made me realize that I am incredibly lucky to have the life I have, and I’ve been so much more positive this year because of it.”
She has also come to realize that she has a passion for service.
“It felt so good to do something for someone else that I plan to engage in more activities that contribute to the greater good or help someone else,” said Zoe. She has already made good on this by sharing her story with her sorority chapter and holding two recruitment drives in February, including one with another sorority, Alpha Delta Pi. So far, Zoe has added 127 new donors to the registry, each of whom may have the chance to save a life if they are found to match a patient.
Zoe would also love to meet her recipient someday.
“This is someone whose wellbeing I really, truly care about,” she said. “I would love to be able to meet him to see how he’s doing and to keep in touch. This is such a rewarding process I wish more people would take that leap of faith and join the registry. This was a unique experience I know I will remember for the rest of my life, and it means so much to me that I was able to provide hope to my recipient.”
Zoe is resident of West Chester, Ohio, and a student at Miami University (Ohio) where she is a member of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority. In her free time, she enjoys reading, and her favorite genres are young adult romance and mystery thrillers.