On March 17, 2013, Leah Apothaker volunteered to swab people’s cheeks at a Gift of Life Marrow Registry donor drive for the Smiles4Shira network at the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) conference in Washington, DC. At the end of the drive she decided to swab her own cheek and join the registry.
Leah, 25, lost her cousin to Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, and always had a feeling she’d be called to donate someday – in fact she was so certain that she called Gift of Life to update her contact information when she moved from her native Columbus, Ohio to Mississippi to start her career as an itinerant Jewish educator.
The call came on March 16, 2016, three years (minus a day) from the date she was swabbed. “It was a crazy time for me personally, I had an internship and was in the middle of applying for jobs and traveling a lot,” said Leah. With the support of Gift of Life’s donor coordination team, she was able to meet the schedule, which has to be timed perfectly for when the recipient is ready to receive the transplant.
Leah’s recipient was a 40-year-old male with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, the same cancer that had affected her family in the past. “I was really excited, it was a miracle of birth that I had this opportunity. My dad was with me during the collection. He got very emotional when he was watching me,” said Leah. “Our family having lost someone, and knowing that my recipient suffered from AML…it’s a pretty wild thing. It’s honestly the greatest gift anyone has ever given me!”
Leah is absolutely willing to donate again if called upon, and emphasizes that the process is fast and easily done. “People think they have to take time out of their lives, but it’s such a small commitment that I don’t think it should scare anyone. It doesn’t look like much! As soon as I saw the courier get the little bag of stem cells, my job was over, it was up to my stem cells to go save a life.”
She has been thinking about her recipient and recently learned that he is in remission and his health is continuing to improve.
“I would love to meet him one day,” said Leah. “Hopefully this will bring recovery to him and his family/loved ones. I want the focus to be on his recovery. I’m a small part of this.”
Leah also shared the story of her donation process by writing a heartfelt article on the website MyJewishLearning.com. To read her article, click here.
Leah is an educator in Jewish life and travels to congregations across the United States. For several years she worked in Jackson, Mississippi, and in summer 2016 she moved to San Antonio, Texas, to take a new position as Director of Congregational Learning at Temple Beth El. She enjoys cooking, working out, intramural sports and trivia.