Aja-Reigh Brewster’s story
Throughout my entire life, I’ve been able to enjoy the simple things in life. I love traveling, going to family cook outs, spending my days at the beach and singing along to Beyoncé. I always appreciated my family and the values they instilled in me from a young age. One of those values was a commitment to help other people. In 2013, while I was working for a news station, I was fortunate enough to do a story on Be The Match® and it inspired me to join the Be The Match Registry®. I thought, ‘how much more could I show that I cared for someone, than by donating a part of me in the hopes it would help them live a longer, healthier life?’
A year later, I was called to be a donor for a kid with sickle cell disease. I didn’t know it at the time, but the recipient was 13 year old Justin Nunez. He was 6 months old when he experienced his first sickle cell pain crisis. He had to get used to the fatigue, headaches, dizziness and severe pain of sickle cell disease while trying to be a normal kid. As he grew older, the disease worsened and his only hope for a cure was a blood stem cell transplant (bone marrow transplant). With no matches in his family, the Nunez family turned to Be The Match to begin the search for an unrelated donor, and they found me.
With his ancestry being Guatemalan and Jamaican, Justin had to beat the odds in order to find a match. With only 19% (19 out of 100 people) on the registry identifying as racially and ethnically diverse, I’m so grateful I was able to be his match to cure his disease
Imagine my excitement when I was first called to be Justin’s donor! I immediately called my family, overjoyed at the life-saving opportunity that was presented to me. They shared in my excitement, but worried that my donation was going to hurt. I was committed to donating to this kid in need, and reminded myself that any pain I felt would only be temporary compared to what he was feeling living with sickle cell disease.
In the weeks leading to my donation, I attended appointments and information sessions to learn all about the donation process and why it is so necessary to get more ethnically diverse people on the registry. I was excited and confident in my decision. Anytime they asked if I was okay, and ready to process, my answer was always, ‘Yes, let’s do this. I’m ready!’
I donated my blood stem cells to Justin in July 2014. He’s back in school, enjoying his teenage years and his life no longer revolves around sickle cell disease.
I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to save someone’s life. Sickle cell disease affects 1 out of every 365 African-Americans, and we only have a 23% chance of finding a match on the registry so it’s important for more people to join the registry to provide these life-saving cures. Looking back, my advice for potential donors is: Don’t let other people discourage you. Think about the recipient. If you have something that could potentially save a life, why not donate it?