This is what modern miracles look like: a simple cheek swab can save a stranger's life. For people suffering from life-threatening diseases like leukemia or lymphoma, finding a matching donor for a bone marrow transplant can be their only chance. The Gift of Life Marrow Registry has a database of 251,433 registered donors and over the course of twenty-five years has found 13,027 matches, leading to 2,997 transplants.
Amy Glanzman, Marketing and Communications Coordinator, says that it was a personal experience of a colleague that led to the founding of the Gift of Life.
"When he was diagnosed with leukemia, our CEO/Founder Jay Feinberg was told he would need a bone marrow transplant to survive. Jay was told that a transplant could save his life, but he would probably die before finding a matching donor. He quickly learned the reason why. A patient's best chance of finding a genetic match lies with those of similar ethnic background. Unfortunately, the worldwide registry was not representative of all ethnic groups, and Jay was Jewish. There was an urgent need to add diversity to the registry, and time was of the essence."
His friends and family launched a grassroots donor recruitment campaign, registering tens of thousands of new donors worldwide. After four years, and helping many other patients, they still hadn't found a match for Jay. Then, at one last drive, says Glanzman, the miracle happened: "A young man decided to run one last drive because his best friend had found a match through a drive held for Jay. He knew the odds were against him, but he was determined to return the gift. And that is exactly what he did.
Jay's four year search for a donor came to a close in May 1995. The very last donor, tested at that very last drive, turned out to be his miracle match!" The transplant was done at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
The Gift of Life was the first registry in the world to use cheek swabs to test donors at donor recruitment drives. Glanzman says "Gift of Life is a pioneer in the use of cheek swabs at drives, with our exclusive SpeedSwabbing® technology." The foundation works with patients, their friends, and families to organize campaigns in different settings, including college campuses; employee drives at corporations; and other creative events including fairs, weddings, and more.
The foundation is based in Boca Raton. It helps to provide information on first steps to patients who have been newly diagnosed and who will need a bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant. The chances of finding a match are still low: one in 200 Americans will receive a stem cell transplant in their lifetime and one in 400 will receive their transplant with bone marrow or blood stem cells from a related or unrelated donor.