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Native American Heritage Month: Honoring donors and patients

While an undergraduate at Oregon State University, Kayla helped host donor recruitment drives encouraging students to join the Be The Match Registry®.

In April 2015, Kayla swabbed her cheeks and officially joined the registry herself.

“It was always something that I thought was awesome,” Kayla said. “There was never a doubt in my mind that I wanted to be on the registry—and if I did get called, I would for sure go ahead and donate.”

Kayla got the call … twice.

During her senior year at collage in 2017, Kayla got the call she was a match. She was completely ready to donate. She began preparation, but then learned her patient didn’t need to move forward with a blood stem cell transplant. The patient didn’t need Kayla’s stem cells.

“It was kind of a bittersweet thing,” says Kayla. I wanted to donate so badly, but I was also so happy that the patient was doing well.”

In 2020, Kayla got another chance. She got the call again.

This time, the world was a little different than it was in 2017. With COVID-19, Kayla wasn’t sure how the donation was going to go.

“I kept thinking about the recipient—about how she was doing,” Kayla said. “Everyone [at the collection center] kept saying thank you, thank you. I just remember being so thankful for the nurses and for Be The Match for giving me this opportunity. It didn’t feel like I should be the one being thanked.”

For the most part, Kayla found the day of her donation to be surprising calming. The nursing staff on hand talked with her the entire time and helped her to relax.

“I kept thinking about writing my letter to my recipient and what I wanted to say—just kind of focusing on that kind of stuff. It was an awesome experience for sure.”

If Kayla could say something to the recipient of her blood stem cells today she’d say:

“You are brave, and you are strong, and you can do this. Even though we don’t know each other, I feel so connected to you and I will forever be a cheerleader on your team.”

A young boy needing a second chance

Tiberius is a fun, playful six-year-old. He loves dogs and everything Baby Yoda.

A year ago he and his family were hit with a devastating diagnosis: acute myeloid leukemia.

Tiberius’ best hope for a cure is a blood stem cell transplant. Unfortunately, like 70% of patients, Tiberius doesn’t have a fully matched donor in his family. His doctors searched the globe for a matching blood stem cell donor. Out of 39 million people on registries throughout the world, Tiberius does not have a match.

Desperate to help his son, his dad—a half match—donated stem cells to try and cure Tiberius last fall. Eighty days after transplant, Tiberius relapsed and now the family—with the support of their community in Alaska—are continuing the search for a fully matched donor.

“He’s fast. He’s fearless. He understands that he has cancer and that he’s sick, but he still lives his best life every day,” said Tiberius’ mom, Tasha.

Patients are most likely to match a donor of a similar ethnic background. Tiberius is Alaska Native, Black and White. Although the registry is diverse, it isn’t yet diverse enough to help all patients.

The Anchorage community has come together to try and raise awareness and to help continue to diversify the registry.

Tiberius' family is grateful for everything that has been done to help Tiberius and patients like him.

Read more about Tiberius and how you can help patients by joining the registry.