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Washington library clerk saved from leukemia by stem cell donor

Sep 12, 2023 by Gift of Life News

Each year Gift of Life’s Young Professionals Committee of San Francisco organizes a fundraising trip to Northern California’s Wine Country. The tour of one or more wineries is led by leukemia survivor and transplant recipient David Llodra, who works in research and development in the wine and spirits industry. 

For the 2023 tour, David arranged a visit to the beautiful Nicholson Ranch Winery in Sonoma. However, the highlight of the day trip was not the wine itself, but the introduction of a Gift of Life donor to his transplant recipient. Stem cell and marrow transplants must remain anonymous for the first year, so these meetings are long-anticipated and emotional occasions. 

David began by introducing fellow leukemia survivor Kim Frost-Olin. She is a 52-year-old library clerk from Puyallup, Wash., and has a husband and two grown daughters. Kim was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on New Year’s Day in 2019 after suffering pain in various parts of her body for several months and experiencing shortness of breath. 

Doctors quickly determined that a blood stem cell transplant would be her best chance of a cure, and although her sister was disappointed that she wasn’t Kim’s match, a search found that her donor had already joined Gift of Life’s registry. 

That individual was Zach Arestad, 28, who swabbed his cheek during a donor drive organized by the Swarthmore College women’s soccer team in 2017, because, he joked, “the team was standing between me and dinner, and if I wanted to eat, I thought I’d better join the registry.” 

He received the call he was a match and would be able to save a woman’s life while he was at work. 

“That really reorganized my priorities!” he said. “I didn’t need convincing; I never considered saying no.” 

When Kim and Zach finally met, they shared a warm hug and introduced each other to family members, to applause from everyone at the event.  

Gift of Life transplant recipient and cancer survivor David Llodra (l) introduced stem cell donor Zack Arestad (c) to his recipient Kim Frost-Olin (r), he cooked a feast to celebrate their meeting. The event was an annual winery tour at Nicolson Ranch Winery, led by David as a fundraiser for the marrow registry.

Transplant survivor David Llodra (l) not only led the winery tour, he cooked up a feast to celebrate Zach and Kim's first meeting.

“I am eternally grateful to Zach,” said Kim. “This was a selfless act for such a young man, to do that for a complete stranger is incredible. When they brought in his stem cells, I held the bags until the nurses were ready to hook them up. He is a wonderful human.” 

“I have been very excited to meet Kim,” said Zach. “I urge people to get swabbed, it not difficult and the donation process is so easy. I feel that contributing to saving Kim’s life has also given me a kind of clean slate, the opportunity to take life more seriously.” 

Thank you again to David as well as the San Francisco Young Professionals Committee for putting together educational and fundraising events and bringing donors and recipients together for special first meetings, like this one. 

Zach, a graduate of Swarthmore College, lives in Philadelphia with his partner Isabel Furman, and says his occupation is “Earthling.” (We think you’re doing a fine job, Zach!) In his free time, he enjoys reading, playing Magic the Gathering, going to the gym, and spending time with friends. 

Kim and her husband Bryan live in Puyallup and when she’s not working at the library, Kim enjoys reading, camping, and playing cards. She plans to stay in touch with Zach “for the rest of our days.”