When Professor Emerita of Biology Sheila Barry was invited back to Stonehill College in Easton, Mass. on November 12 to talk about surviving blood cancer thanks to a peripheral blood stem cell transplant, she was excited. Sheila not only taught at Stonehill for more than 20 years, during her tenure she regularly organized stem cell and bone marrow drives to invite students to join the registry.
She never could have anticipated that she, herself, would someday be diagnosed with a form of blood cancer called myelofibrosis, and was happy to talk about her transplant experience and how her life was saved with a small bag filled with stem cells from a matching Gift of Life Marrow Registry donor.
After telling her story to a classroom of students and speaking about what a generous and kind person her donor must be, Sheila opened the floor to questions, and one young man asked if she had ever met him.
“He was supposed to come in September,” said Sheila. “Florida [where her donor lives] had an uptick in COVID cases so we postponed it. We email each other. A stranger gave me a second chance at life at 73. I’m now 75. I’ve had his cells for two years. We’re getting along very well.”
At that, the young man stood up and removed his face mask, saying, “I’m glad our cells are getting along! It’s me, your donor!”
Surprise and joy crossed Sheila’s face as she realized this man was her donor, Brady Goldstein. He walked to the front of the room and the two of them beamed at each other as they hugged.
“Who knew about this?” Sheila asked, turning to her family who were sitting in the front row. They all did. When Gift of Life Recruitment Manager Traci Ackerman learned that Sheila and Brady’s first meeting had been delayed due to a COVID-19 surge, she called Stonehill College and asked if they would help arrange for the two to meet on campus. They were happy to do so, and with the help of Sheila’s family, the plan to surprise her was set in motion.
After they met, Brady took a moment to explain to the audience what being a stem cell donor was all about.
“When I got the call that I was a possible match for a patient I said, ‘No, I think I’m definitely going to be her match,’” said Brady. “I had just moved to a new city to start my life post-graduation – very scary! – when I got the call.”
Brady was determined to donate despite COVID restrictions on travel in early 2020, and went to Florida to donate at Gift of Life’s collection center in Boca Raton.
“These cells are getting given, any way, any how,” Brady recounted telling his father. “But I didn’t really understand the gravity of it at the time because for the first year, donating is anonymous.”
But meeting Sheila in person has made the depth of their shared experience more meaningful for them both.
“To hear that you ran a lot of donor drives is really inspiring to me,” Brady told Sheila. “Gift of Life is a great organization – miracles happen and this is just one of them.”
“I have never been so surprised in my life,” said Sheila. “Can you believe this young man did this for me? He saved my life!”
After the meeting, Sheila and her family, Brady, and the students and faculty participating in the event socialized at a reception for the pair.
Click here to watch the video.
To read about how Brady and how his lifelong friend Nick donated stem cells within weeks of each other at Gift of Life, click here.