Leah remembers the day she got the call like it was yesterday. Leah works as a patient navigator at Be The Match, and her phone rang as she was in the middle of a meeting with two blood stem cell transplant recipients. They were talking about what their lives have been like since transplant. Not recognizing the number, she let it go to voicemail. When she listened to the message on her train ride home that night, she couldn’t believe her ears.
It was a message from the Donor Services team at Be The Match® with an intriguing opportunity. Leah could be a donor for a company developing a new cellular therapy. The goal of the therapy: to treat complications from blood stem cell transplant and solid organ transplant, as well as immune diseases and cancers.
“It took me aback. I never expected to get a call to be a donor even though I had joined the Be The Match Registry®,” said Leah, who started her career at Be The Match on the Donor Services team making the kind of calls she’d just received.
“I’m a white female in my mid-30s with an HLA type that I knew was pretty common on the registry, so my chances weren’t too high for being a blood stem cell donor. This was a unique opportunity for me and I jumped at the chance to help,” she explained.
One donation to help many patients
Leah’s cells wouldn’t go directly to a patient. Instead, she learned her cells would most likely be manufactured into a therapy that would be used to treat many people. Or, her cells could potentially go to a lab and be used to research future cell therapies.
“To think my cells could be developed into a therapy that would help not just one person, but many, or go to a lab to further science … it’s pretty cool. For me, this was just as meaningful and impactful as a traditional blood stem cell donation,” she shared.
Helping patients in new ways
Leah’s opportunity came through Be The Match BioTherapies®, which is a branch of Be The Match. The Be The Match BioTherapies team works with companies that are developing new cell and gene therapies to help bring these new therapies to patients sooner.
Some of the companies Be The Match BioTherapies is working with are developing therapies to treat blood cancers and blood disorders, and several other life-threatening illnesses. Some—like the one Leah donated for—are working on therapies to treat patients who have complications post transplant. Others are developing treatments for diseases like multiple sclerosis and lung cancer.
“Be The Match BioTherapies is exciting because we’re able to help many of the same patients we’ve always served through Be The Match, but in new ways. We can also touch the lives of patients that we never could have otherwise,” said Jamie Margolis, director, Cell and Gene Therapy Operations, Be The Match BioTherapies.
“We’re able to save more lives and serve more patients regardless of the therapies they need. And, we’re giving more people on our registry the opportunity to provide hope,” she added.
A humbling experience
Leah’s donation experience was similar to that of a traditional blood stem cell donor. She had a doctor’s exam to make sure it was safe for her to donate. She had tests to make sure her unique cells were a right fit for the company, and ultimately their patients. And, like all donors, she had a workup specialist from Be The Match who was in contact with her every step of the way.
“My workup specialist took really good care of me. She explained the whole process. She checked in to make sure my blood draws went okay. I got a text from her the morning of my donation telling me how proud she was of me, and she checked in with me after. I felt so supported,” Leah said.
Leah’s donation took about five hours. “I have to admit, I was nervous. I don’t love needles but the staff at the center helped me through my anxious times,” she remembered.
During her donation, she thought about all the patients she’d worked with over the years and how fortunate she was to be right where she was.
“The whole experience hit so close to home for me. I talk to patients every day who have had a blood stem cell transplant. Many do very well, but the reality is that there are many people who have complications after transplant. To know that I was helping to advance science and help the people I talk to every day … it was humbling,” Leah shared.
She added, “There’s the saying, ‘There but for fortune.’ That’s what I felt. I was so fortunate that I was someone so healthy that my cells could help someone else. When someone donates for a patient in need of a blood stem cell transplant, we tell them, ‘You’re providing hope and the possibility of a cure.’ I got to do that same thing thanks to the opportunity from Be The Match BioTherapies.”
To be a donor for Be The Match BioTherapies, you must be a Be The Match Registry member. Join the registry here. Already on the registry? Take a minute to make sure your contact information is up-to-date.