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Urgent transplant request leads to stem cell donation within two weeks

Jul 22, 2022 by Gift of Life Donor Story

During his freshman year at Florida State University in 2018, Christopher was at the Pre-Veterinary Club meeting when one of the club members started talking about joining the Gift of Life registry. Intrigued by the possibility that he could potentially save someone’s life through a blood stem cell or bone marrow donation, Chris swabbed his cheeks and signed up. 

“Several of my family members have had cancer in the past, and even though none of them had a transplant, I decided if I could help someone else in that situation it was the right thing to do,” he said. 

Four years later, his phone rang with a caller ID from Boca Raton, Fla. 

“It was 2/2/22 when I learned that I was a match for a woman in her 40s battling acute leukemia,” said Chris. “I was in my living room, and I think I got both a call and an email at the same time. My first reaction was, ‘I forgot I signed up’ and then I was excited to be able to help someone.” 

“One of my roommates had been called as a match in the past,” he added. “But, that time the donation didn’t happen. My roommates thought it was cool that one of us would get the chance to donate.” 

Gift of LIfe donor Chris learned he was a match for a woman battling leukemia, and immediately agreed to donate blood stem cells. Two weeks later, his cells were on their way to the transplant center to give his recipient the best chance of a cure. In this photo Chris stands in Gift of Life's collection center smiling. He is in front of some signs congratulating him for being a lifesaving hero. Every match doesn’t result in a transplant. If several donors match one patient, the transplant physician can pick the best match from among them. Sometimes a patient decides on a different treatment option, their current treatment regimen works better than expected, or they need more time to reach the optimal state where a transplant will have the most success.

“My parents were equal parts proud and skeptical,” said Chris. “I had not told them when I joined the registry, so I bombarded them with all this information and then had to say, ‘Oh, by the way, my donation is urgent, so the flight is next week.’ Neither of them could go with me, so it was the first time I would ever be traveling alone.” 

Chris’s professors were generous when they heard what he was doing, giving him time off from class to donate and excusing him from in-class assignments for the two days he would be out. 

When he arrived in Boca Raton, Chris enjoyed the five-star treatment he received. 

“I loved the hotel, it was so luxurious I told all my friends, ‘I feel like a celebrity,’” he said. “When the driver picked me up, I expected a normal taxi, but no, it was a Hummer!” 

When he arrived at the collection center, Chris met the collection center staff and was settled in his donation chair, where they checked on him constantly to ensure he was comfortable and had everything he needed. 

Maybe I was a little achy for a day or two, but at the end of the day, that was a temporary discomfort compared to the potential of a permanent cure for my recipient. This is genuinely one of the kindest and most rewarding things you can do.

“They brought me snacks, I had a TV with streaming services, and I was actually done in three hours,” said Chris. Donations average between four and six hours to complete the apheresis process, which separates stem cells from the bloodstream and returns the remaining blood back to the donor. 

“When I got back to Tallahassee my friends told me to take it easy for a day, but I felt normal and went to my classes,” he said. “I don’t have social media accounts so I didn’t post anything, but I had told my Writing to Persuade teacher why I would be out for two days, and she asked me to explain the process to the class. People were very nice about it, saying, ‘You saved a life,’ but I feel like I was the one fortunate enough to be a donor for someone.” 

Chris is not only grateful for the donation vacation he spent in South Florida, he hopes for the best outcome for his recipient. 

“My match is a woman in her 40s and maybe she has a husband and children, I want to help make sure her family stays whole,” said Chris. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do something kind and give back to others. Maybe I was a little achy for a day or two, but at the end of the day, that was a temporary discomfort compared to the potential of a permanent cure for my recipient. This is genuinely one of the kindest and most rewarding things you can do.” 

Chris, 22, is a graduate of Florida State University, and on the verge of moving to Miami to take up a career in marketing, beginning work at a news station. In his free time, he likes to read, draw, watch tv and hang out with his friends.