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USC graduate travels to South Florida to save leukemia patient

Jun 11, 2024 by Gift of Life Donor Story

Twice a year, in the winter and summer, thousands of young adults participate in Birthright, a 10-day long educational group trip to Israel. Over 800,000 people have gone on the trip to date, and in winter of 2018, Serah was one such young adult. In January, while in a technology museum in Jerusalem, she and her other group members learned about the work that Gift of Life Marrow Registry does and, after the presentation, they were invited to become members of the registry.

“In Judaism, we believe that we can and should do almost anything to save a life,” said Serah. “So, when they asked if anyone wanted to swab their cheek, that was the motivation for me joining. There was no reason I couldn’t donate if I did match a patient, so I should at least try.”

Five years later, in April 2023, Serah received a text and an email from Gift of Life.

“I remember I was at my accounting job, and tax season is very busy, when I got the messages that I had matched with a 29-year-old woman diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia,” said Serah. “It took a minute; I did remember joining the registry, but I was still a little skeptical if this was real or not. I went to the Gift of Life website and on the homepage there’s a scroll banner, and I saw that my Birthright group had a new match that same day in their donor circle. I guess that was me! I called Gift of Life shortly after to start the whole process.”

Serah admits that she was nervous about the donation as she doesn’t like needles.

“I was definitely anxious, I’ve fainted during blood tests before, but I knew that it was a mental thing,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t in any real danger and there wasn’t anything physically keeping me from donating. I could not let my anxiety get in the way.”

After the phone call ended, Serah told her then fiancé, Peter, and her parents, all of whom were very proud and supportive of her.

While many donors go in for collection shortly after they’re notified of being a match, Serah was put on a waitlist. This can be for many reasons as patients and their doctors explore other treatments for their diseases before going forward with a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) or marrow transplant, or sometimes the patient is not quite ready for transplant and needs further treatment to prepare. Serah was put on hold, but she was eager and willing to donate the entire time.

“Gift of Life told me that she was exploring alternative treatments,” said Serah. “I just hope she knew that through that process, from when I matched until she was ready, she knew someone was waiting in the wings, ready and willing, to help her.”

In December, Serah got the call that her recipient was ready and needed the transplant. Gift of Life coordinated with her to arrange travel from California to Boca Raton, Fla., to donate at the Adelson Collection Center. Gift of Life put her and Peter up in a beachside resort hotel in Delray Beach and provided a meal stipend for the pair.

After completing her donation, Serah and Peter put a pin in the map to show where they traveled from.

On the day of her donation, Gift of Life sent a car service to bring them to the collection center.

“During the donation, I watched some Marvel movies,” said Serah. “My husband was getting his Ph.D., so he was doing homework. I also chatted with the collection center staff. My donation was only about two and a half hours long, the nurses were saying it was very fast! My recovery was easy, and Peter and I went flew back to California the morning after the collection.”

 Serah feels very proud to have completed her donation.

“It would have been easy to say no, I had chances to do so,” said Serah. “But I felt I, personally, couldn’t say no to the opportunity, and I’m happy those values are strong in me. I’ve never really tried to tackle my fear of medical procedures, but this donation process really helped me work on my fears. They tell you how rare it is to match with someone when you join the registry, but I feel lucky for this person that we were able to find each other. It must be scary to be on the other end, there must be so much instability, so I was glad that I could be something stable for them.”

Serah urges everyone to join the registry if able.

“Gift of Life is such a supportive organization. Everyone you meet and talk to the entire time is full of support and gratitude. It makes you feel like you’re doing a big thing. Everyone is there for you.”

Serah, 32, works as a CPA having graduated from University of Southern California and Mount Holyoke College. She lives in California with her husband, Peter. In her free time, Serah enjoys theatre and knitting, having recently finished making a cardigan and pair of socks in “Gift of Life orange.”