When people join Gift of Life Marrow Registry as volunteer donors, most of them expect they will get their chance to donate if they are a match for a specific person. Today, Gift of Life participates in medical research projects with other organizations – giving registry members more opportunities to help others. If a donor’s tissue type matches a profile needed for research, you may get that special phone call from Gift of Life, except this time, your donation may help many people.
This is the call that Matthew, known as “Matt”, received a few years after joining the registry during his Birthright Israel trip in 2019.
“At the time I registered I thought, if they ever call me I’ll decide then,” said Matt. “I thought it was a valuable cause, and clearly if you donate it is for people who need it. That’s a big emphasis of the Birthright experience, learning your responsibility to help others, as well as Israel’s history.”
When Matt heard that his cells would be used to develop medications that could potentially help more than one patient, he was all in. The type of cells collected for medical research and cellular therapies are called mononuclear cells (MNC), a combination of blood cells including lymphocytes and monocytes. These cells are collected in the same way as blood stem cells, through the apheresis machine.
“I was really excited to hear I could possibly help several people, and it wouldn’t be too taxing on me,” said Matt. “I always thought well, maybe I won’t be into donating if it ever comes up, but when I got the call and talked to the Gift of Life staff, I realized it was a way to give back to the community.”
Gift of Life arranged for Matt to fly to Florida and put him up in a hotel in nearby Delray Beach, where he was able to walk to the beach, restaurants and shopping, and enjoy the pool during his “donation vacation.” There is no cost to donors for travel, hotel, or the medical tests they undergo prior to donating, and they receive a meal stipend.
As it turned out, Matt knew someone at Gift of Life, his friend's brother Blake Gottlieb, Gift of Life Social Media Specialist.
“I called Blake and told him I’d be donating and he was really excited,” said Matt. “Knowing someone who worked there also helped give me confidence, he spoke so highly of the organization. I didn’t tell my parents until afterwards so they wouldn’t worry, but they were happy I did it." He also had no trouble getting off work from his financial services firm, who felt he was doing something for an incredible cause.
During his donation, Matt watched some shows on Netflix and enjoyed a good meal, then afterwards decided to spend the evening watching some sports in his hotel room.
“I always felt this was an amazing opportunity, it went smoother than I ever could have imagined,” said Matt. “I was given first class treatment. It was really comfortable and it was all I could ask for.”
“I hope people don’t think this is a hard thing to do,” he added. “The people at the collection center were truly amazing, and I got all positive reactions from my friends and family.”
Matt, 25, works in media investments in New York City, and is a graduate of Tulane University, where he was a member of Kappa Sigma fraternity. He enjoys playing sports and likes to be outdoors hiking, biking, traveling and exploring.
Matt’s swab kit was sponsored by the Adelson Family Foundation Donor Circle.