Donor joined registry to help one child and gave marrow to save another
In 2013, Jayden, a little girl in Montreal, was searching for a matching marrow donor. Gift of Life held drives for her including on campus at Concordia University, where Gift of Life donor Carl was majoring in philosophy.
“I saw the drive going on and decided to swab,” said Carl. “My mom had breast cancer when I was young, so that was one of the main reasons I wanted to be a donor – to help someone else if I could.”
He was on the registry for seven years, and in that time graduated but decided to return to school at McGill University and major in IT and computer programming. Then in September, 2019, he started getting phone calls from Boca Raton, Fla. saying that he was a potential match for a child fighting to survive leukemia.
“When I got the call and heard I was a match, I was trying to figure out if it was real or a prank,” said Carl. “It was real. I decided to go ahead, especially because it was for a four-year-old child.”
Although he didn’t tell many people, his fellow Canadians were pretty mellow when they learned he was donating bone marrow. “Most of them said, ‘Such a nice thing to do for someone,’” said Carl. But never having had anesthesia before, he was a little nervous at first. Bone marrow collection is an outpatient process completed under general anesthesia, and only takes one to two hours. “When they put the anesthesia mask on me I started to ask, ‘How long before I feel the effects?’ and the next thing I knew I was waking up in the recovery room.”
Carl’s father accompanied him to the United States for the collection at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and spent the time chatting with Gift of Life’s representative. A day of donation coordinator from Gift of Life goes to every collection to ensure that donors are well cared for and have everything they need, and to deliver the famous orange blanket signed by staff members.
Like most bone marrow donors, Carl felt some stiffness in his hips for a few days after donating, but was soon back to normal. “I would definitely donate again,” said Carl, “People think about it too much! Go swab, see what happens, maybe you’ll find out you’re a match. Go with the flow and don’t worry, it’s not open-heart surgery. Twenty minutes to donate bone marrow and you’re done – you’ve saved a life!”
Carl will graduate this spring and already has an IT job in e-commerce waiting for him. In his free time he makes music, plays videogames, and spends time with his family members, nieces and nephews.
The importance of registry diversity
It’s incredibly important for Gift of Life to have donors like Carl who bring a unique genetic profile to the registry – he has one parent who is French-Canadian and one who is Jamaican.
Every person’s genetic makeup is also expressed in their Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA), a part of the immune system. HLA types must be matched between the donor and recipient for a transplant to be successful, but that’s a bit like finding someone who shares an identical fingerprint with you.
The best chance of finding an HLA match is with someone else of similar ancestry and ethnicity, but for people whose ancestors are from different continents, it can be extremely challenging to find a donor. The best way to save the lives of more patients is to increase the diversity of the registry.
If you are 18 to 35 and in good health, please order your free swab kit and join the registry. You could someday have the chance to save a person’s life. We think that’s incredibly special and heroic! Please visit www.giftoflife.org/register to get started.