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Man battling to survive blood cancer gets second chance thanks to medical student

Sep 14, 2022 by Gift of Life Donor Story

Ethan is doing everything he can to prepare for his future career as he starts medical school at the University of Florida, including volunteering for the Footprints Buddy and Support Program at the Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Unit at Shands Hospital on the UF campus. 

“As an undergraduate, I volunteered with Footprints to learn more about the human side of medicine,” said Ethan. “We mainly served as buddies and companions for the children fighting cancer, and the organization also has partnerships with others, such as Gift of Life. Every year, we helped swab people and run a marrow recruitment drive with the Gift of Life Campus Ambassadors for a few days each semester. In spring 2019, I offered to help with the drive, so I actually swabbed myself.” 

Ethan felt it was critical to join the registry in order to contribute to the wellbeing of others in any way he could, especially after seeing the children in the cancer unit show such incredible resilience. 

More than anything this opportunity reaffirms my values, that helping others is a real privilege.

Like most donors who join the registry, Ethan learned that it is actually very rare to share the same tissue type as someone in need, so when he heard the incredible news that he matched a patient – a man in his 70s battling myelodysplastic syndrome – he was completely excited. 

“I couldn’t believe I’d be able to do this incredibly meaningful thing, I know it is rare to ever match someone, so you don’t expect it to happen to you,” he said. “More than anything this opportunity reaffirms my values, that helping others is a real privilege.”

Since Ethan donated in April, he had to get time off from classes, but fortunately, his professors were helpful, and he was even able to push his anatomy exam back a few days. 

Those who donate stem cells receive four shots of Neupogen in the four days before donating, and a fifth on the morning of donation, to help stimulate the production of extra stem cells and encourage their movement in to the circulating blood for collection. 

“I had Passover with my family in Tampa, then drove to Boca Raton for the donation,” said Ethan. “I stayed overnight in the hotel where I received a gift box from Gift of Life, which was really nice. I feel that this organization does such a great job of supporting donors through the process, I found it incredible that everyone was so personal and caring. More than just caring about donors in general, they cared about me, and that made me feel at ease. I look forward to my career in health care, and the way I was treated meant so much to me. I hope to emulate this when talking to my own patients in the future.” 

Ethan’s donation went quickly, taking only three hours. A four- to six-hour donation is more typical. 

“Recovering from donating was really easy,” said Ethan. “More than anything I found the experience to be easy and painless, Gift of Life takes great care of you. If you’re asked to be a donor, by all means, do it.” 

“This is one of the most meaningful things I’ve done during my college career,” he added. “I’ve been in a hospital room with a child who was preparing to receive a bone marrow donation, playing with them to keep them happy and relaxed. I’ve seen, after the transplant, how much it changes their and their family’s lives. I am proud I was able to say ‘yes’ when I was given the opportunity, and hope if I have other opportunities to help people, I will be able to say yes to those unreservedly. This is unique, and something I’ll remember forever.”

Ethan majored in Biology and Music as an undergraduate at University of Florida, where he will start medical school this fall. He is also a percussionist, and loves both making music and going to concerts. He has played tennis his whole life, and enjoys staying active and hanging out with his family and friends.