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The donation journey of a high school student

At just 18 years old, Jonah has accomplished so much. He’s a math whiz on his high school’s math league, takes college-level math classes, and is a competitive Rubik’s Cube champion. He is also a hero to a patient who needed a marrow transplant.

Jonah grew up in a family touched by life-threatening illness: his older sister, Mariah, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma as a child. Chemotherapy and radiation ultimately put Mariah into remission, but marrow transplantation was discussed as a second option if neither of those methods worked.

Mariah’s illness combined with an altruistic spirit inspired Jonah’s family to help to those in need. Each year, Jonah and his family donate blood and volunteer at blood donation drives. “We are an ‘activist’ type of family,” said Melissa, Jonah’s mother. “We actually knew a child who needed a transplant and passed away from leukemia. When you know someone personally affected, it motivates you to do something.”

It’s no surprise that when Jonah turned 18, he joined the Be The Match Registry®.  A few months later, he was called upon to potentially save the life of a patient who needed a marrow transplant. Jonah was asked to donate peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) to a male patient and agreed immediately to move forward.  “I basically went home and said ‘hey mom, I’m donating marrow,’ and that was it,” said Jonah. “Going on to donate was a no-brainer for me.”

Jonah’s full schedule presented challenges when scheduling appointments leading up to donation, which was a concern for both Jonah and his mother, Melissa.  With the help of Be The Match staff, Jonah’s appointments were managed around his schedule. “Scheduling appointments prior to donation was really effortless on our part,” said Melissa.

The first step of Jonah’s PBSC donation was a series of five filgrastim shots. Filgrastim is given to PBSC donors to increase the number of blood-forming cells (also called blood stem cells) in the blood stream. “The filgrastim shots weren’t that bad,” Jonah said. “I had some soreness, but it didn’t get in the way of my classes.”

On the day of Jonah’s donation, his arms were connected to an apheresis machine. Jonah’s blood was removed through a needle in one arm and passed through the machine to collect only the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood was returned to him through a needle in his other arm. This process is similar to the process of donating plasma.

Jonah’s entire donation took more than six hours, which is typical for most PBSC donations. The hardest part of the donation, according to Jonah, was keeping busy. His mobile phone, laptop and Rubik’s cubes kept boredom at bay as his life-saving marrow was pumped into a small bag attached to the apheresis machine.

Jonah is excited to potentially meet the patient who received his PBSC and thought about him often during his donation. “It’s crazy how this little bag of marrow is going to go into the other guy (patient),” Jonah said. “I really hope the patient isn’t in too much pain, going through the transplant process, and I hope he’s not suffering. I would tell him to just ‘keep on keepin’ on.’” Jonah said.

Now that his donation is complete, Jonah and his family are determined to continue giving back to others. Both Jonah and his mom want to host a marrow drive in their community and Jonah is determined to get his friends to join the registry. “I’ll tell my friends that they should join the registry,” Jonah said. “It’s an important thing to do for someone else.”

You can help patients in need to by encouraging your friends and family to join the registry.