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After 12 years in marrow registry, stem cell donor helps man battling leukemia

Oct 12, 2018 by Gift of Life Donor Story

Martin (r), who was accompanied by Gift of Life Community Engagement Coordinator Russell Lowe during his collection, says that a giving only a small amount of stem cells can save someone's life and make you feel like a superhero! 

In August, 2006, Martin, his sisters, and 1,504 other people came to the Synagogue of West Deal in Deal, New Jersey with hope in their hearts: an appeal had gone out to try and save the life of six-year-old Stella Liniado. Stella was diagnosed with leukemia and urgently needed a bone marrow transplant – but she did not have a matching donor. In just a few days, more than 6,000 people joined the marrow registry and were tested, but a match could not be found in time. Stella’s legacy is carried on by the Stella Liniado Rainbow Foundation, an organization that continues to support Gift of Life, advocate for donors to join the registry, and sponsors the Steps for Life 5k of New York City every year.

Martin, a 55-year-old resident of Brooklyn, remembers that he understood the importance of being a donor when he swabbed his cheek. Twelve years later, in May 2018, his miracle call from Gift of Life finally came – “You may be able to save a 44-year-old man who is battling leukemia.”

“I was over the moon to be called as a match,” said Martin. “I knew I would donate either bone marrow or stem cells, whatever was needed. All that mattered to me was that sharing only a few hours of my time meant that a man’s life could be saved. You don’t even need to have surgery or give up an organ, it’s an outpatient process.”

With great excitement, Martin documented his journey to his donation on his Facebook page, encouraging others to join the registry as well. He also had great support from his family, including one of his sisters who started a medical referral service years ago that has now evolved to become a local cancer center in Brooklyn.

Martin was ready for his day of donation, arriving with a queue of videos on his laptop to binge-watch while his stem cells were being collected. Gift of Life Community Engagement Coordinator Russell Lowe went with him to make sure he was taken care of as he donated. “It was very relaxing,” he said. “I am so lucky! I donated to help someone and hope I can meet them someday.”

Martin plans to write a letter to his recipient, which he can do anonymously for the first year. Donors receive updates about their recipient several times and after a year is up can apply to meet their recipient if both parties agree.

“I want people to know how simple this is,” said Martin.  “People think you have to be a hero to donate stem cells, but it’s so simple. Thank God we have such technology to save so many lives. No one should pass up this opportunity.”

Martin’s passion is helping others, especially through his work as a life coach specializing in divorce recovery. He has been married for four months to Sarita, and in their free time they explore the New York City area and go on local adventures.