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Philadelphia realtor asked to donate cells for research into new cellular therapies

Jun 20, 2024 by Gift of Life Donor Story

Like the thousands of young adults who participate in Birthright Israel every year, Haley was in Jerusalem in June 2018 when presenters from Gift of Life Marrow Registry informed her group of the organization’s mission. Many participants joined after learning about the registry, including Haley.

“I have had many family members and friends battle cancer,” said Haley. “My aunt had four different kinds of cancer before ultimately passing away. Watching what she went through and endured was unimaginable. I knew that if I could help in any way, then I should.”

It wasn’t long before Haley was contacted by Gift of Life, saying that she had been identified as a match for someone in need, but she was released from donating. This is not uncommon, as the patient and their doctor may have chosen a different direction for treatment, or the patient was not ready for transplant at that time. Recipients must be in remission for a transplant to take place. A closer match may have also been identified after the initial contact with Haley. Being released from donation is no reflection on the donor; it is purely a medical decision made by the transplant physician. Donors released back into the registry return to “available” status and may be matched with a different patient or called on to donate cells for medical research in the future.

In August 2022, Haley matched with a request for cells needed for a medical research project.

“I have been called three separate times by Gift of Life,” said Haley. “But this last one stuck!”

The field of cellular therapy and immunotherapy is undergoing incredible advances, and Gift of Life’s registry members, like Haley, may find themselves being invited to donate cells for research projects. Universities, biotechnology, immunology, and major pharmaceutical firms are seeking to develop treatments and cures for many diseases, including blood cancer, solid tumors, Parkinson’s disease, and many more conditions.

When donating for research, mononuclear cells (MNC) are typically collected rather than peripheral blood stem cells. MNC are a mix of various types of stem cells found in the marrow and circulating blood, including lymphocytes, monocytes, and natural killer (NK) cells. These cells give researchers excellent data about how the human immune system responds to pathogens, toxins, and cancers, so they offer the chance to develop new treatments that go beyond the need for a perfect donor match. Success in these areas of research has the potential to help thousands of patients who do not currently have other treatment options.

“I was so excited to be able to donate,” said Haley. “I told my parents, and we all cried together, honestly. Cancer has affected both sides of my family, so we were in awe of what I was going to be doing.”

Gift of Life coordinated with Haley to bring her and her father to Boca Raton, Fla. to donate at the Adelson Collection Center.

“The facility was amazing,” said Haley. “Everyone there made me feel like I was a real hero and that what I was doing was important and life changing. The donation itself was so easy! Honestly, my dad and I watched ‘Trailer Park Boys’ and relaxed during it. I was completely fine afterward.”

After donating, Haley ran a drive at her gym, swabbing 37 people to help grow the registry. 

Haley says that donating MNC for medical research has caused her to make a change in her life.

“It put things into perspective, I think,” said Haley. “I realized after the donation that I needed to follow my dreams and be less afraid of failure. When I returned from Florida, I went back to school and became a realtor.”

Haley continues to be involved with Gift of Life, organizing a drive that took place in May 2024.

“We donate for a couple of hours once or twice while patients fight every day,” said Haley. “It’s a very small thing compared to what patients have to endure, and I think everyone who can, should be on the registry.”

Haley, 28, is a realtor working and living in Philadelphia. In her free time, Haley likes to spend time with her family and friends and enjoys lifting weights. She is proud of being able to deadlift 235 lbs.