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NY Daily News: Leukemia survivor meets New York City banker who donated his stem cells for lifesaving transplant

An article by NY Daily News’ Meredith Engel featured the touching story of leukemia survivor, Leya Parker, who met her stem cell transplant donor, Jonathan Struhl, for the first time at the Gift of Life annual gala.

As per the article:

A Florida who was days from death finally got to say “thank you” to the stranger who gave her a second lease on life.

Leukemia survivor Leya Parker, a 48-year-old mother of four from Atlantic Beach, Fla., could barely hold back her tears as she embraced Jonathan Struhl and thanked him for the stem cell transplant that saved her from death.

The pair met for the first time Thursday night at a gala for Gift of Life, the bone-marrow foundation that forever forged a bond between the two.

“I wanted to meet him the day I got my transplant,” Parker told the Daily News after meeting Struhl in front of 500 people at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Midtown. “He’s such a strong donor that the last thing my doctors are worried about is if I’ll have ever leukemia again.”

Seventy percent of people in need of a bone-marrow transplant don’t have a relative that matches their health needs and therefore must rely on an unrelated donor.

Parker had all but given up on her search.

“You have no idea (how hard it is) when your brother tells you you’re 10 days away from dying, your doctors tell you you have the worst form of leukemia anyone could ask for at your age, and you need a transplant in order to survive,” she recalled.

But Struhl, a 26-year-old finance executive from Manhattan, learned that his DNA matched someone in need of a bone-marrow transplant last year and jumped at the chance to help someone.

“It was a Tuesday afternoon and it was raining outside, and I had just come out of a really bad meeting,” Struhl said. “I just (thought), ‘This is awesome. I clearly have to do this.’ ”

Struhl admits he was “a little nervous” about the process.

But 80% of today’s transplants are done via leukapheresis, which collects stem cells in a process similar to giving blood.

It starts a week before the procedure, when donors get a daily injection to increase the number of stem cells they are producing.

On transplant day, during a six-to-eight-hour process, the donor rests in the hospital while an IV pulls out blood, harvests the stem cells and returns the blood back to the patient.

The same day Struhl donated, Parker received the gift of life.

“I knew I was gonna survive,” she recalls. “I knew that was it.”

Laws prevent transplant donors and recipients from meeting until a year after donation to ensure the recipient is healthy enough.

Parker and Struhl didn’t even know each other’s names, but had corresponded through Gift of Life via letters.

The gala that brought them together also introduced two other donor-recipient pairs: An 11-year-old girl from Scotland who received a transplant from a 31-year-old Illinois lawyer, and a 56-year-old Seattle mother who received her transplant from a 23-year-old Canadian man.

Founder Jay Feinberg, a former leukemia patient, launched the organization after a lifesaving bone-marrow transplant he received 20 years ago.

The group holds donor drives — including ones Saturday in Wolcott, Conn., and Sunday in Lakewood, N.J., plus four in Philadelphia this July.

Volunteers can also send away for a donation kit ($60) to join the registry, or set up a donor drive themselves.

As Struhl and Parker proved, the donor-recipient relationship forms bonds that forever unite those involved.

The two spent the rest of their Thursday learning more about each other and making plans for the future.

“I’m from Florida, so I’m in Florida all the time, (and) I’ll show her around New York,” Struhl said. “We’re definitely gonna hang out.”

For the full article, click here.

For more information on Gift of Life, including how to join the registry, click here.

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