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Nursing student saves lives of two siblings battling inherited immune system disorders

Jan 16, 2024 by Gift of Life Donor Story

In February 2023, Gift of Life Campus Ambassadors at Fort Hays State University partnered with the school’s Nursing Department to hold a recruitment drive and ask students to join the registry. Emma, then studying to become a registered nurse, was one of 17 people swabbed that day.

“I wanted to be on the registry,” said Emma. “I wanted to help someone in need if I matched with them.”

As it turned out, Emma would be helping two someones! Just nine weeks after swabbing, she was at a friend's house when she received a call from Gift of Life explaining that she had been identified as a match for a pair of siblings battling inherited immune system disorders.

“I was in shock,” said Emma. “I truly didn’t think I would match with someone, especially so quickly, but I was excited about the opportunity nonetheless. I immediately told everyone, my friends and family, my classmates, professors, all the people in the Nursing Department at FHSU. They were all very excited for me.”

After a blood test confirmed that Emma was the best match for her recipients, Gift of Life coordinated with her to donate peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) at the Adelson Collection Center. Travel, a meal stipend, and hotel accommodations were provided by the organization, and she stayed at a beautiful resort near the ocean in Delray Beach. 

To prepare for Emma’s donation, a nurse administered a course of Filgrastim, a synthetic version of a naturally occurring protein found in the body. It has been used for PBSC donations for over 30 years, to encourage a donor’s stem cells to enter the bloodstream before collection.

“Each day the nurse came and gave me the shot in the morning, and then I had the transportation company pick me up and I explored Delray,” said Emma. “I also sat by the pool at the hotel and had dinner. The Filgrastim made me tired, but it was very easy.”

On the day of her donation, a car service brought Emma to the collection center located at Gift of Life’s headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., where the staff were ready to greet her and get her settled in her own donor suite. 

“The Gift of Life staff took the absolute best care of me,” said Emma. “They assisted me with everything and were all very welcoming, friendly, and treated me wonderfully. During the actual donation, I watched a show on my phone, talked with the nurse a lot because I am going to be a registered nurse soon. I would do the donation time and time again.”

Emma says that donating PBSC and giving her recipients another chance at life has given her a lot to think about.

“It reminds me every day that I really have it good,” said Emma. “There is so much to be thankful for, and there are always things we can do to help others, big or small. We cannot discard our own hardships and issues but should remember that things happen for a reason and there are positive ways to handle them.”

Emma encourages anyone and everyone who can to join the registry.

“Donating was the most life changing and humbling experience. We are given the gift of good health, so this is a great chance to share it with others!”

After donating, Emma, 24, graduated in December 2023 from Fort Hays State University and is now working as a registered nurse in Missouri. In her free time, she likes to read, workout, and spend time with her nieces and nephew.