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Yeshiva University student donates blood stem cells to save leukemia patient’s life

Feb 23, 2024 by Gift of Life Donor Story

Yoni has always had a connection with Gift of Life Marrow Registry. His brother, Binyamin, ran drives for the organization and later donated peripheral blood stem cells for a woman diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. So, in October 2018 at the Steps for Life 5k of New York City, it wasn’t even a question for Yoni if he would join the registry – he found the donor registration table and completed his swab kit. 

After joining the registry, Yoni joined Gift of Life's Senior Swab Program and ran drives at his high school, Torah Academy of Bergen County (TABC). The Senior Swab Program, founded by Dr. Michael Osband, gives high school students who have turned 18 the option to join the registry. Those under 18 have the option to pre-register and receive a reminder and a swab kit mailed to their home after their 18th birthday.

Yoni’s involvement didn’t end with his joining the registry. In 2019, he got a call from Gift of Life about being a potential match.

“I remember that first call,” said Yoni. “I was a potential match but was then placed on standby. They said they were waiting on something at the transplant center. It was called off and I was released back into the donor pool.” Donations can be postponed for many reasons and, while uncommon, it does happen on occasion. 

A few more years went by, then, in 2022, he received another call from Gift of Life – he had been identified as a match for a woman diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. 

“I had just woken up and checked my email and saw that I had matched,” said Yoni. “I was super excited when I saw the message from Gift of Life. I immediately told my mom and, moms being moms, she asked if it was safe, and I said, ‘it’s perfectly safe.’ I knew a lot about the process and I had donated blood before, but I think I was 5% nervous, 95% excited. I wanted to help someone, and as time went on, I was more and more excited to do it.”

After testing confirmed that Yoni was the best match for his recipient, travel arrangements were made for him to donate at the Adelson Collection Center in Boca Raton, Fla. Yoni was allowed to bring one guest with him, and he brought his mother. 

“My donation trip was super fun for me, honestly,” said Yoni. “I went to the beach a couple of days when we were in Delray Beach and walked around. It was a nice little getaway!”

On the day of his donation, a car service brought Yoni and his mom to the collection center where Gift of Life staff brought them to a private donor suite.

“The people at Gift of Life were so sweet,” said Yoni. “They really pampered me. The donation didn’t hurt, and I just relaxed the whole way through. I watched Mr. Robot the whole time! My mom was with me during the collection. She wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be alone. I was a little sore, as if I had gotten a vaccine or something. After a day or two, I returned to class, and I was feeling back to normal.”

After returning home, it took a little bit of time for Yoni to realize the impact of what he had done.

“Right after, everyone was telling me I was a hero. And I was like ‘No, I just got a vacation to Florida,’” said Yoni. “A couple of weeks later, though, I still knew that I didn’t do much, but what I did was still important. I more feel lucky that I could donate. A lot of people never get called. Being a donor has become part of who I am. I still use my Gift of Life bag, and the other week, I met someone else on campus who was also a donor!”

Yoni wants people who are on the fence to know that donating is an easy process. 

“It takes so little to do so much,” said Yoni. “I don’t think I’ll do anything so small that does so much good ever again. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to literally save someone’s life. Unless you’re a fireman or a doctor, this is something that doesn’t happen that often to your average person.”

Yoni, 22, is a full-time student at Yeshiva University in New York, N.Y., and a part-time tutor. He is majoring in Computer Science and anticipates graduating in 2025. In his free time, Yoni enjoys biking around Manhattan.