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Traveling pediatric ICU nurse donates stem cells after cross country move

May 08, 2023 by Gift of Life Donor Story

While studying at the University of Delaware in 2016, Emma participated in UDance, a dance marathon held yearly at the school to raise awareness and money for fighting childhood cancer. There, Gift of Life Campus Ambassadors had a table set up to ask people to join the marrow registry by swabbing their cheek. Emma did just that. 

“One of my really close friends in Alpha Delta Pi, the sorority we’re part of, donated to her sister who had leukemia several years prior,” said Emma. “She had a successful stem cell transplant, and she was the one who told us we should swab, and I did.” 

Emma was one of more than 800 people who joined the registry at UDance in 2016, and, six years later, when she received a call from Gift of Life saying she was a match for a 37-year-old woman battling Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, Emma was the fourth person from that drive to donate blood stem cells or bone marrow. 

“I was in a pizza shop in Italy on vacation when I got the call,” said Emma. “When I got back to the U.S., I did my testing to confirm I was a match and started the process.” 

There was only one complication: unlike most of Gift of Life’s donors, Emma wasn’t based in one location. 

“I have been a nurse since 2019, but I had quit my nursing job in May 2022 to start travel nursing,” said Emma. “As a travel nurse I take temporary nursing positions in high-need areas. So, the entire time I was doing my blood tests I was mid-drive across the country to California. My donor services rep was great, she coordinated everything so I could do the tests and the donation on the way. So, I did my blood test in Arkansas and my collection was in California. Gift of Life was very accommodating.”

“My mom and I drove up to the collection center, and my donation was very easy,” said Emma. “I was the only donor at the facility that day, so it was me, the two nurses, and my mom. After the donation, my mom and I stayed overnight in LA, and then I was back in San Diego the next day. It was really easy.” 

Having donated, Emma feels that this experience has come to have a special meaning for her. 

Gift of Life stem cell donor and traveling ICU nurse Emma was on vacation in Italy when she learned she was a lifesaving match for a 37-year-old woman battling to survive leukemia. “I was actually walking out of the collection when I said to my mom, ‘Not to be dramatic, but that this was a life-changing experience,’” said Emma. “It’s something I’ll always remember. I’ve also been thinking about getting more involved with Gift of Life when I step away from bedside nursing. A whole bunch of my family and friends have also joined the registry, and I heard that one of them got called and is going through the blood testing now!” 

Emma wants people to know that it’s not hard to get on the registry. 

“If you do get selected, you have a chance to save a life” said Emma. “If you had a family member with leukemia you’d wish that everyone was on the registry. I think everyone who is of age should swab.” 

Emma, 26, graduated from the University of Delaware and is now working as a traveling pediatric ICU nurse. While she is currently working in Boston, Mass , she thinks of Philadelphia as her home. In her free time, Emma enjoys hiking and playing the piano.