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Over 20 years after joining registry, stem cell donor has his chance to save a life

Dec 12, 2022 by Gift of Life Donor Story

When Michael joined Gift of Life’s registry in April 2000, he hoped he might be a match for his fraternity brother’s cousin. 

“I was in AEPi Fraternity at the University of Georgia, and one of my fraternity brothers organized a drive for his cousin, Jessica Smolen, who needed a transplant,” said Michael. “Nearly everyone in the fraternity swabbed, and a lot of people came to support her. The line to join Gift of Life was out the door and winding around the school. She did end up receiving a transplant and is still doing well.” 

Although Michael had not heard of the registry before then, he was happy to help someone if given the opportunity. It arrived 22 years later, when he received a call from Gift of Life that he had been found as a match for a woman in her mid-70s battling Myelodysplastic Disorder, a form of blood cancer. 

“I was so glad I could do something to help someone,” said Michael. “My family had faced some loss over the previous few years where there wasn’t much we could do to help. Being given the chance to help someone else’s family was very meaningful to me.” 

Michael, who works as a human resources executive in Atlanta, came to Gift of Life’s in-house stem cell collection center to donate. His wife, Rebecca, joined him as his day of donation companion. 

Gift of Life Marrow Registry stem cell donor Michael and his wife Rebecca posing in Florida. The couple enjoyed their time visiting Delray Beach when Michael donated stem cells to save the life of a woman battling myelodysplastic disorder, a form of blood cancer. “My wife and I were treated like royalty,” said Michael. “We were waited on, checked on, and the med tech who did the process could not have been nicer. It was the same in the days before donating, everything was explained clearly, and preparation directions were easy to follow. Everyone was fantastic.” 

He also said that, “My recovery was extremely uneventful. I took a nap after I got home and felt completely normal after that.” 

Michael’s community was generally aware of the registry, but few of them knew someone who had matched a patient or become a donor, so he enjoyed learning how the process worked. His family and friends were supportive and happy he was doing something to help a person in need. 

“Donating was very meaningful to me,” said Michael. “I just hope it helped and the recipient is recovering. It was so little for me to be able to do, I really wish I could do it again. I would love to meet her, if it works out, just to see how she’s doing.” 

Michael also encourages others to join the registry and donate if called as a match. 

“The process to donate could not be easier,” he said. “If I actually saved someone’s life and all I had to do was essentially give blood, then I wish everyone would sign up and be able to help others in need of a transplant.” 

Michael, 43, lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife and two young children. An alumnus of the University of Georgia, he is also a member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) fraternity. He currently serves as a human resources executive, and in his free time enjoys reading, watching sports, watching his kids play sports, and movies.