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United States Airman donates mononuclear cells for medical research to develop new cures

Sep 19, 2023 by Gift of Life Donor Story

Gift of Life coordinated with the American pop rock band X Ambassadors in 2017 to have a donor-recipient meeting and swab drive at their University of Florida concert in Gainesville, Fla. At the concert, Michael Cizek, a UF student and the first person to donate who had registered at a Campus Ambassador Program drive, was introduced to his marrow recipient, Jeff Turner. The pair shared an emotional hug on stage and a few words with the concertgoers. Inspired by them, many in the audience joined Gift of Life’s registry, including recent donor Jonathan. 

“I knew it was a noble cause to be a part of,” said Jonathan. “If I can do something to help someone, anyone, fight through a tough situation, to live a better and longer life, I would do anything to help that person.” 

Five years later, Jonathan, now serving as a member of the United States Air Force, got a call from Gift of Life explaining to him that he had matched with a specific tissue type needed for the development of new cancer treatments. Some of the most exciting research going on today is in cellular therapies, with many organizations working to develop advanced treatments for blood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. 

This research often begins with a cell donor whose specific tissue type is needed for the development of a particular medication. Mononuclear cells (MNC) are often requested for this purpose as they represent a variety of cell types. Donors who give cells for analysis remain active in the registry and may be matched with a patient in the future or be requested for additional donations. 

“My family and I were very excited about me being lucky enough to donate and hopefully help others,” said Jonathan. “I was able to take leave in order to donate, and Gift of Life coordinated travel for me.” He and his dad flew to Boca Raton, Fla. for the donation, completed at the Adelson Collection Center, a state-of-the-art facility with private donor suites and many amenities to make the donation experience a greta one. 

“The staff were extremely friendly and made it a seamless donation,” said Jonathan. “I had so much fun getting to know the team! They were so kind and communicative throughout the entire process. I brought my dad with me, and we watched some movies, ate some good food, and just relaxed. Afterward, a driver returned us to the hotel, and we were able to enjoy the lovely area of Delray Beach. Recovery was easy and I was back to normal within a day.”

Donating for medical research has the potential to save many lives, and Jonathan is excited about that prospect. 

“If my cells are able to save someone, it would make it all the better,” said Jonathan. “My family is my rock, and it was amazing to be able to go through the whole experience with my dad. I would hate it if someone had to go through life without a member of their family. I hope that I am able to help someone’s loved one out there.” 

Jonathan, 26, is a graduate of the University of Florida and now a member of the United States Air Force. He lives in Panama City, Fla., with his wife, Hannah, and their 9-month-old son Nathan. In his free time, he spends as much time as he can with his family enjoying the little moments.