Join Registry Give Now
Join Registry Give Now

Pennsylvania man donated blood stem cells less than a year after joining the registry

Apr 02, 2024 by Gift of Life Donor Story

In February 2023, Gift of Life Marrow Registry held its annual Celebrating Life New York City to honor the outstanding members of its community. More than 300 people attended the event and witnessed the emotional meeting of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor Diane Berson and her lifesaving peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donor Alexandra Levy. At the event, Gift of Life staff and volunteers encouraged attendees to join the registry. One such attendee was John.

“One of my good friends, Conor, who donated PBSC in 2021, has stayed involved with the organization as a volunteer and invited me to the event,” said John. “When I was given the opportunity to join the registry, it was a no-brainer for me. I could potentially save someone’s life, so I knew I had to swab.”

That December, John was watching soccer when he received a phone call from a Boca Raton area code. It was Gift of Life telling him he had been identified as a match for a 50-year-old man diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome.

“My initial reaction was, ‘Wow, is this real,’” said John. “When I swabbed, I was just hoping I’d match with someone. But when I was told I was actually a match, that hope became reality really, really quick. It was a surreal feeling. One second, I was watching TV, the next I was told I could potentially save someone’s life.”

The first person John told was his fiancée and, after some initial concern, she was just excited as he was about the donation.

For many donors, one of the concerns after being identified as a match is about taking time off from work to donate. Luckily, John works for his father’s company.

“I am cut from, the same cloth as my dad,” said John. “So, as soon as I told him that I matched with a cancer patient, he was 100% behind me donating PBSC. He and the rest of my family could not tell me enough how proud they were of me.”

After a blood test to confirm that he was the best possible match and a physical to assess if he was healthy enough to donate, John’s donation was scheduled. At 8:00 a.m. the morning of, Gift of Life scheduled a driver to pick him up and take him to the New York Blood Center where he was greeted by collection center staff and checked in.

“I was the only donor there that day,” said John. “I got hooked up to the apheresis machine really quickly and they immediately started the process.” PBSC are collected through a process called apheresis where a needle is placed in each arm, with blood drawn from one arm, processed through a cell-separating (apheresis) machine that identifies and collects only the needed stem cells, then the remaining blood is returned to your other arm.

“All in all, it took about five hours,” said John. “My fiancée Harley was with me the whole time for moral support. We chitchatted with the nurse and even got to watch a Netflix documentary. It was easy and as pain-free as possible! The nurses at the collection center were incredible, and the Gift of Life staff who helped me coordinate my blood draws, physical, and itinerary was amazing. They really made this process very simple. After I got unhooked from the machine, Harley and I walked back to our hotel and relaxed the rest of the day. Post–procedure, I limited my amount of exercise for two days, but was back to lifting and running within 48 hours!”

John believes that this donation will always hold a special place in his heart.

“I would like to believe that up to this point, I have led a pretty meaningful life,” said John. “From the friendships I have formed in my personal life to the businesses I have helped in my career to the organizations I have volunteered with, I truly believe I have positively impacted my community. But this was different. Being able to volunteer my stem cells to someone who needs them and hopefully save their life is truly special and something I am truly proud of.”

John, 28, lives with his fiancée Harley, also 28, in Yardley, Penn. where he works as a risk advisor for his family’s insurance agency. He graduated from the University of Richmond where he was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. In his free time, John enjoys watching Liverpool Football Club and Texas Longhorn football and trying new restaurants with Harley.