Gift of Life’s Virtual Steps for Life 5k Run & Walk wrapped up on September 19, 2022, with an online closing ceremony to celebrate the 22 teams and 200 participants who joined in the fundraising event over the summer.
The highlight was the moment when stem cell donor Matthew Weiss, a 26-year-old accountant from New York, was introduced to his transplant recipient Samer Tahhan, a 50-year-old purchasing supervisor, for the first time via an online meeting. A smiling Samer, sitting next to his wife Hala, was clearly thrilled to be meeting the man who saved his life.
The two were introduced virtually by Cheryl and Emma Karesh, the mother and daughter of Avi Karesh z”l, a bone marrow donor and member of Gift of Life’s board of directors. The Donor Circle in memory of Avi sponsored the processing of Matthew’s swab kit.
“I’m doing great, I’m back to normal,” he told Matthew. “You saved my life and we are really grateful and thankful.” Samer and Hala also welcomed their children into the room to meet Matthew, as well.
Samer had been diagnosed with leukemia during a routine physical in 2020 and he and his family felt devastated. He had not experienced any symptoms, so the diagnosis came out of nowhere, and as the parents of three children, 13, 10, and 7, he and his wife Hala could not believe this was happening to their family.
“I was afraid that matches were from relatives only,” said Samer. “When the doctors found my brother was not a close enough match for me, they contacted the Gift of Life Marrow Registry, who have saved so many lives.”
Gift of Life quickly found Samer’s match, Matthew, who had joined the registry in 2017 while on spring break visiting friends who lived in the Broken Sound community in Boca Raton, Fla. His friend’s mother brought them to the Broken Sound clubhouse for lunch and they both swabbed at a Gift of Life recruiting table. When he learned he was a match for a patient, Matthew wondered if he had a family, or children, and it made donating seem even more important because it wasn’t just one person who was affected, but a whole family.
“I’m so happy to see you are healthy and doing well,” Matthew told Samer. “It was a great feeling being able to help someone, and now to have the chance to meet you.”
“It only took a minute or two to get swabbed,” said Matthew. “Donating was such an easy process, it’s very straightforward. After I donated I realized that the more people I tell about the registry, the more may sign up and save lives.”
Matthew is a resident of New York City, where he works for his family’s Long Island-based auction house. He enjoys traveling and watching sports.
Samer and his family live in Cumberland, Rhode Island, where he is a purchasing supervisor in a clothing company. He enjoys reading, traveling, and bicycling.