Gift of Life marrow donor and camp counselor meets transplant recipient whose life he saved

Top Quote First-time introduction of leukemia survivor and lifesaving marrow donor took place during annual camp conference. End Quote
  • (1888PressRelease) January 05, 2017 - Bone marrow transplant recipient Stuart Smoller will always remember November 7, 2016 as a special day - that's when he first met his donor, Jeffrey Schwartz at the JCamp 180 Annual Conference in Springfield, Mass. Regulations prevent bone marrow donors and recipients from learning each other's identities for the first year after the transplant occurs, so these meetings are emotional occasions for both recipient and donor.

    Jeffrey first joined the Gift of Life Marrow Registry during the summer of 2012, while serving as a staff member at URJ Crane Lake Camp in West Stockbridge, Mass. Gift of Life has partnerships with many camps across the United States and visits them to explain the need for young, healthy marrow donors to join the registry.

    "I thought it might be possible to donate in the future, but I didn't expect to be a match for a patient less than a year after joining the registry," Jeffrey said. He was called as a donor in May 2013, during his junior year at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. With exam week pending, duties as an officer in three different organizations, and two concerts scheduled for his choral group, Jeffrey was under tremendous pressure. In spite of the difficult schedule, he agreed to donate bone marrow for Stuart because "whatever stresses I was going through could never be as bad as leukemia."

    Across the state in West Hempstead, Stuart, a former tax preparer and billing manager, was battling the disease first discovered in 2012 as he prepared for knee surgery. His condition did not respond to chemotherapy, and his brother was not a match. He needed to search for a volunteer donor.

    Stuart and his wife Diane were overjoyed when Jeffrey was found through Gift of Life, and even more so when his marrow transplant in mid-May 2013 began to take hold and generate a new immune system for him. By the end of the month he was able to leave the hospital.

    Jeffrey and Stuart's first-time introduction took place during the conference before 300 attendees, who were on hand to learn best practices in operations, fundraising, educating youth, and more. To date over 5,000 donors have joined the registry through Gift of Life's partnerships with camps, resulting in matches for over 120 patients.

    As he spoke about his experiences, Jeffrey told conference attendees that he was asked to donate at perhaps the most stressful moment in his college career. During his preliminary medical exam, the doctor reminded him his donation was voluntary. "I told him 'I want to do the right thing, I want to be good,'" Jeffrey said. Then the doctor said five words that held special meaning for him, "It's hard to be good."

    He had used those exact words while counseling an 11-year-old camper the previous summer. "When I heard my own words come back to me, I knew I was definitely going through with the donation - and I'm extremely happy that's the course I chose," said Jeffrey.

    When Stuart was welcomed to the stage, he and Jeffrey embraced each other with heartfelt warmth. "I'm so glad to meet my donor who saved my life, I'll always be grateful!" said Stuart.

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