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20 years after joining the marrow registry, Michigan man gets his chance to save a life

Oct 05, 2023 by Gift of Life Donor Story

In March 2005, Aaron learned about 10-year-old Amy Katz who was fighting leukemia and searching for a matching donor. A donor recruitment drive was being held at his local synagogue’s annual Purim Carnival, so Aaron, then 30, stepped up and joined the registry. 

“I wanted to sign up to help anyone who needed a transplant,” said Aaron. 

Aaron did not turn out to be Amy's match, and as she responded so well to treatment, she never needed a transplant. Now an adult, she has completed her master's degree, married, and recently gave birth to her first child. She has a rewarding career as an occupational therapist. 

But, Aaron had something special in his future: 18 years after joining the registry, he received a call from Gift of Life. 

“I was sitting in my office wondering who was calling me from Boca Raton,” said Aaron. “I was a little confused when the person on the other side of the phone said that they were from Gift of Life. My first thought was, ‘How did they get my number?’ But then I remembered swabbing. It was almost 20 years ago after all! They told me I had matched with a 55-year-old woman battling myelodysplastic disorder. I was honored to have been identified as a match for my recipient. After the call ended, I phoned my wife and my father. He’s a retired physician, and he was so excited about this opportunity.” 

Before Aaron could donate, Gift of Life did some additional testing to ensure he was the best match for his recipient. For a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) or marrow transplant to work, both the donor and the recipient need to have matching immune system factors called human leukocyte antigens (HLA). Aaron took an additional blood test to confirm his HLA profile was indeed a good match for the patient, then Gift of Life arranged for him and his wife to fly to Florida. 

Gift of Life has its own state-of-the-art collection center at its headquarters in Boca Raton, and donors are given a hotel room close by where they are able to walk to the beach and enjoy the tropical weather. 

“The accommodations Gift of Life provided were phenomenal,” said Aaron. “The hotel was very nice, and being in Florida in December was a nice reprieve from Michigan winter!” On the day of his donation, Gift of Life sent a car service to pick up Aaron and his wife and bring them to the collection center. 

“The center staff were very helpful and supportive throughout the process,” said Aaron. “They checked on me and my wife the whole time we were there. She and I watched TV and chatted during my donation. The entire process was easy and painless.” 

Aaron returned home to a proud community. 

“My family and my friends all reached out and told me how wonderful it was that I was able to help save a life,” said Aaron. “I feel honored to have been given this opportunity by Gift of Life, and I would encourage everyone to join the registry. It’s the easiest and best thing you can do to save a life!” 

Aaron, 48, received his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and his Master of Business Administration from Wayne State University. He is the CEO of a content marketing firm and lives in Bloomfield, Mich. with his wife Caryn and their three children. In his free time, he enjoys watching movies with his family.