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Young boy receives urgent stem cell transplant from University of Miami grad student

Jun 07, 2022 by Gift of Life Donor Story

When University of Miami graduate student Dylan heard a presentation led by Gift of Life Campus Ambassador Parker Spector-Salwen at her Sigma Delta Tau sorority meeting in September 2019, she immediately had a gut feeling that she was meant to join the registry. 

“I never knew about Gift of Life until that day,” said Dylan, “Immediately after the presentation, I knew I wanted to join the registry – I was meant to join that day. That year, one of my sorority sisters donated her stem cells through Gift of Life, and when I saw her post on social media, I had that strong feeling again that one day I would be asked to donate my stem cells.” 

On January 18, 2022, Dylan got the call that, at some level, she had been expecting all along. 

“When I got the call from Gift of Life I was driving to my job as a babysitter,” she said. “I immediately started crying – hearing that I was a potential match for someone was a lifechanging moment. I realized that I have a greater purpose than I ever thought, and I didn’t hesitate, I was ready to start the donation process.” 

Dylan was a match for a boy who was battling an extremely rare immune system condition. 

“They told me the donation was urgent, so things moved very quickly,” said Dylan, who donated stem cells less than a month after learning she was a match. 

“I called my mom right away, and as soon as I reached work, I told the mom, who is a doctor,” she said. “She immediately understood that this was a big deal. She and her family made me some cards and got me a bag of goodies to keep me busy on my day of donation.” 

Being a donor was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. For me, saying ‘no’ was never an option. Having the chance to give someone a second chance at life is worth it. I encourage people to listen to their hearts.

She also learned something unexpected from a friend. 

“Someone I became close to shortly before donating shared with me that he had leukemia a few years earlier and had received an anonymous stem cell donation from someone in Germany,” said Dylan. “It was cool to hear his story.” 

“Since I’m a graduate student at the University of Miami, Gift of Life’s collection center was only an hour drive away in Boca Raton,” she said. “I saw my grandma when I went for my pre-donation medical exam, and then the day before donation Gift of Life flew my mom in so she could be with me. She couldn’t come into the collection center due to COVID restrictions, but it was nice to be able to spend time with her before and after.” 

Because her recipient is a child, the amount of stem cells the transplant center requested from Dylan was not as large as it would have been for an adult, and her collection went quickly. What made it even more special was that she donated on Valentine’s Day, which is also National Donor Day, in recognition of tissue and organ donors. 

“I like to call it the Gift of Love – I now feel like I have a forever valentine,” said Dylan. “During the donation I watched a show. Everyone working at the collection center was so sweet and thoughtful, they checked on me constantly to make sure I had everything to make me comfortable. My donor services coordinator was like my second mom.”  

Dylan also feels as though her experience has given her a new perspective. 

“Donating has made me feel more empathetic and understanding toward others,” she said. “Plus, I’ve had many opportunities come from donating, from sharing my story with the Sigma Delta Tau headquarters to talking to a potential donor and sharing my experience. I also helped connect Gift of Life with my mom, who is the VP for a cancer foundation. She arranged for Gift of Life to have a recruitment table at this spring’s walkathon.” 

Meeting her recipient would be incredibly special to Dylan, as she plans to work with children after graduation. 

“I’m currently getting my master’s degree in special education, so children mean the world to me,” she said. “If I ever have the chance to meet him, I know it will be extremely emotional and touching.” 

“Being a donor was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” she added. “For me, saying ‘no’ was never an option. Having the chance to give someone a second chance at life is worth it. I encourage people to listen to their hearts.” 

Dylan is from Westchester, N.Y., and in her free time enjoys reading, Pilates, drawing, going on walks, and watching TikToks.