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Los Angeles man meets San Diego teen he saved through a stem cell transplant

Mar 12, 2024 by Gift of Life News

Bobby Alexis donated peripheral blood stem cells in 2022 to help cure a 16-year-old boy diagnosed with aplastic anemia. At the time he wrote an anonymous letter to his matching recipient, telling him to look forward to the future, be strong, and to always remember that Bobby was thinking of him.

In February, Bobby, his mother, Anna, and his girlfriend Caroline drove from Los Angeles to San Diego to meet that young man, Aidan Samoon. Now 18 years old and in good health, Aidan and his family were thrilled to welcome Bobby and Anna to their home.

“Aidan was waiting for us when we drove up,” said Bobby. “Meeting him and his family was magical. We met his parents and they had brought his grandmother over, too, it was really beautiful. They were all crying and although his grandmother didn’t speak any English her emotions were very clear.”

“Bobby and his family are amazing,” said Aidan. “They are very genuine people. He told me about his life, I told him about my life, and we went on from there.”

Bobby joined Gift of Life during his 10-day Birthright trip in 2014.  The two organizations have partnered for 20 years to invite young Jewish adults from the U.S. to swab during their tour of Israel as a way of paying it forward. 

Stem cell donor Bobby Alexis in Gift of Life's collection center holding up the bag of stem cells he donated to save Aidan Samoon's life.

“I was very drawn to join the registry and had that feeling in my gut of, ‘You’ve got to do this,’” said Bobby. His intuition was correct: he would be needed as a stem cell donor in the future. In October 2021, Bobby learned he was a match for a 16-year-old boy and was thrilled to donate.

Federal transplant regulations restrict donors and recipients from learning each other’s identities for the first year after transplant, but once that year was up, both Bobby and Aidan were given the opportunity to communicate – and they didn’t waste any time.

As it turned out, they did not live far from each other: Bobby in Los Angeles, and Aidan in San Diego, so they scheduled a meeting. 

“When we were arranging the visit, I asked Bobby what he and his family wanted to eat,” said Aidan. “I want to eat your food, make what you eat, he told us, so my mom made a huge amount of food.”

Aidan and his family are Iraqi Chaldeans, an ancient Catholic community and ethnic group from the northern region of Iraq. During the period when the ISIS terrorist group was active in Iraq and Syria, they persecuted the Chaldean community.

“I have only 40% hearing in my left ear,” said Aidan. “There was a lot of terrorism and bombs in Iraq. My dad was carrying me, and we were running away when a bomb went off right next to us and damaged my hearing.” 

Aidan was only six years old when the entire family, his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, were sponsored to come to the United States and settled in the San Diego area, where there is a large Chaldean community and cathedral. His family is religious and attends mass regularly.

“I became ill when I was 16, and it happened fast,” said Aidan. “I was always tired, my gums were bleeding, and if I got a cut, it wouldn’t stop bleeding.  I was covered in bruises from horsing around with my friends.”

The day his blood test results came back his father called him at school, telling him not to run, not to get bumped by anyone, and especially not to get hit in the head during PE class, because it could easily result in a brain bleed.

“I went to the hospital several times for transfusions, and once they took some bone marrow and tested it, they figured out I had aplastic anemia,” said Aidan. “We were given a choice of cyclosporine or transplant, and I was scared of the transplant, but the medications didn’t work well for me, so I needed it.”

Fortunately, Aidan already had a match in the registry, and Bobby was happy to donate.

Gift of Life stem cell donor Bobby Alexis with his recipient Aidan Samoon (center) surrounded by Aidan's family and Bobby's girlfriend, Caroline. This is their first in-person meeting more than a year after the transplant was completed. Transplant donors and recipients must remain anonymous for the first year under federal regulations.

“Talking to Aidan I explained about how I joined the registry and what the donation process was like,” said Bobby. “I told him about Gift of Life and the collection center and all the people there who have dedicated themselves to finding matches for patients.” 

“I know that since matches are based on inherited tissue types, matches are usually from a related ethnicity,” said Bobby.  “My family is Jewish, and his is Chaldean, but there may be some connection from hundreds of years ago.” 

“We bonded over so many things,” Bobby added. “For both of us, it’s like a missing piece has been found, we feel really connected and our families feel comfortable together, it’s just very natural.”

Gift of LIfe stem cell donor Bobby Alexis (left wearing sunglasses) hugs the 18-year-old whose life he saved with a transplant, Aidan Samoon.  Aidan is wearing a white tee shirt, and they are standing outside in front of a palm tree.

Although Aidan has now recovered from his transplant, he missed more than a year of high school, and is now making up that education and looking forward to his diploma soon.

Aidan also wants to thank his parents for everything they’ve done for him.

“My parents are heroes,” said Aidan. “They have saved my life more than once. My mother was in the hospital with me 24 hours a day, and my dad and grandmother took care of my little sister. I wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for God and my parents. Also, the Rady Childrens Hospital was amazing; the nurses took care of me and my mom like we were their family – if it wasn’t for them, I would have been miserable.” 

Bobby and his parents made their own heroic journey to the United States many years ago.

“During Chernobyl I was pregnant with Bobby, and we left Ukraine and went to Bulgaria,” said Bobby’s mother Anna. “He was born prematurely from the radiation, and they said he probably wouldn’t survive, but I fought for him for months. Now he is more than six feet tall! And he is a giving person!  I am so glad he saved this young man’s life; I am very proud.” 

Bobby and Aidan have plans to meet again in a few months, and this time it will be Bobby and his family’s turn to host. 

Learn more about aplastic anemia.