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NYU Alum donates stem cells twice to save woman battling myelodysplastic disorder

Nov 07, 2023 by Gift of Life Donor Story

In December 2018, Julia ordered a swab kit online from Gift of Life for a very important reason: her cousin was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and Julia wanted to join to help her.

“When Ava, my first cousin, was diagnosed with AML at only 23 years old, I immediately ordered a kit,” said Julia. “Thankfully, Ava received a transplant, and she is living a healthy and normal life today!”

While Julia didn’t match with her cousin, she did match with a woman battling myelodysplastic disorder.

Many people believe that most patients find a match in the family, but that is not true. Only 30 percent of patients can find a match among family members – almost always a sibling. The other 70 percent of patients must search the registry in the hope that a volunteer donor is a close enough match for a transplant to work. Matches are based on immune system factors inherited from our parents and ancestors, so the best chance of a match is with someone who shares the same ethnic background. 

“I was sitting at my desk at work when I got the call that I was a match,” said Julia. “My mother and grandmother were playing golf in Boca at the time, so when I was receiving a call from the 561 area code, I answered because I thought it had something to do with them. But it was from Gift of Life calling to tell me that I was a potential match for a 64-year-old woman. I was nervous but knew I would do everything I could to donate.”

After a blood test confirmed that she was the best match for her recipient, Gift of Life helped organize Julia’s donation at a local collection center. Her family was very supportive, and her mother accompanied her both times.

Julia’s first donation was in February 2022. Occasionally, a recipient needs an additional infusion of peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) to help the transplant fully take hold. While this is rare, it does happen and Julia was asked to donate PBSC a second time in December 2022.

“The people at Gift of Life were incredible,” said Julia. “I could not ask for a better support team. During both my donations, I watched Netflix virtually the entire time. It was a pretty easy and chill couple of days compared to my normal everyday life. When the donations were complete, I had a good night’s sleep and was back to the office in my normal routine the following day.”

After her last collection, Julia was met with overwhelming support from her family and community, and she is excited about the prospect of meeting her recipient.

“I didn’t do this for a ‘Thank you,’” said Julia. “Helping someone in need just seems like the right thing to do. I find that others think I did something a lot more challenging and difficult than it really was.”

Julia thinks that everyone who is healthy enough should join the registry.

“You never know how something so small can change someone else’s life or even your own,” said Julia. “All I have to say is – swab!”

Julia, 26, is an associate at a private equity firm and lives in New York City. She is an alumna of New York University where she was also a member of the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority. Julia spends her free time with her family and friends and enjoys going to the gym.