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John Carroll University freshman donates blood stem cells four months after joining the registry

May 21, 2024 by Gift of Life Donor Story

On college campuses all over the country, the first week of classes sees clubs and organizations recruiting new members as the semester starts. Students enrolled at John Carroll University and members of Gift of Life’s Campus Ambassador Program decided to run a donor drive of their own in September 2023. One of the students who joined the marrow registry that day was Nathan.

“I was at the club fair that first week when I saw the Gift of Life booth,” said Nathan. “I listened to their pitch, and I agreed to swab my cheeks. I don’t have any family history of blood cancer, but being on the registry seemed like a good thing to do.”

Less than two months later, while Nathan was walking back to his dorm after class, he received a call from a Florida area code. It was Gift of Life.

“They told me I had matched with a 63-year-old man diagnosed with myelodysplastic disorder,” said Nathan. “I have to admit I was a bit anxious about it. I don’t like needles. But, despite that, I was also excited about the opportunity, so I agreed to donate.”

Gift of Life blood stem cell donor Nathan gives a thumbs up during his donation to help save the life of a 63-year-old man battling to survive leukemia.

Myelodysplastic disorder, also known as myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), is a group of life-threatening blood cancers characterized by abnormal, or “dysplastic,” bone marrow cells. These abnormal bone marrow cells produce defective blood cells. MDS can progress and become acute myeloid leukemia if left untreated. While there are treatments for the symptoms of MDS, the only known cure is a peripheral blood stem cell or marrow transplant. 

After Nathan agreed, Gift of Life organized his donation at the Adelson Collection Center in the organization's Florida headquarters. Four months after joining the registry, Nathan was in Boca Raton for his donation.

“The whole thing was super easy,” said Nathan. “During the collection, I played Mario Kart and watched some funny videos. Everyone at the collection center was really nice and supportive. It was doubly nice since I got to go down to Florida in the middle of winter! After I finished, I was able to go to the beach for the first time since I was five.”

Donating has come to have a special meaning for Nathan.

“The whole experience was incredibly impactful,” said Nathan. “I’m also really proud to have gone through with it, and my family and friends are proud of me too. It really put into perspective how fragile things are. I matched with my recipient within weeks of me swabbing. You never know when someone needs your help, and I’m glad I was there for him.”

Nathan, 18, is starting his college career at John Carroll University, and lives in Ohio. He spends most of his time outside of class doing homework. Nathan also says that he is now less scared of needles and regularly donates blood at drives on campus.