He rubbed Q-tips around his mouth and saved a girl.

A drawing Marina sent to us in a letter.

Coming home from my summer job one night in July 2005, I heard an unfamiliar voice linger in the hallway. Walking closer to the origin, I saw my dad in the family room speaking with a dark-haired man I had never seen before.

He introduced himself as Jay Feinberg, the founder of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation. I still had no idea why he stood in front of me.

My dad said that Feinberg had called him at work the day before because he was a potential stem cell donor for a person with cancer.

Put into a national stem cell donor bank a few years prior, and never really heard from the organization since, my dad completely forgot about his simple cheek swab until this call.

Feinberg told my dad over the phone that he could potentially save the life of an 11-year-old girl with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, cancer of the blood or bone marrow.

“How could I not save an 11-year-old girl?” my dad said. “What if one of my daughters needed a donor?”

Feinberg had had leukemia. After four years of waiting on the transplant list for bone marrow, a donor saved his life. The Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation continues the process of finding matches for recipients with life-threatening illnesses to save their lives, too.

My dad asked Feinberg if the donation could wait until after our family vacation in August. Feinberg said that if he waited that long, the recipient would die.

Afraid to go through with the procedure, but compelled to save the young girl, my dad said he would go through with the further testing needed to confirm a match for the donation.

Feinberg immediately made an appointment for my dad to meet Michael Schuster, a doctor of medicine specialized in hematology (specializing in blood and blood disorders), at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, New York.

Schuster gave my dad a full physical. This included a spleen examination, a chest X-Ray and a psychological test to confirm he could handle the process.

His spleen not enlarged, his chest free of pneumonia and his psyche in acceptable condition, my dad moved on to the next step.

Following the tests, a nurse came to our house every day for multiple days to administer Neupogen to my dad. The injections of this medication would stimulate stem cell growth and release the stem cells from the bones. Therefore, they could circulate more freely in his blood.

On this medication, my dad suffered flu-like symptoms. He almost cried one day because his body hurt so much when my uncle casually leaned on his shoulder. His muscles ached. He felt congested. He wanted to sleep.

If the 11-year-old girl could live this long with leukemia and the agony of finding a donor, he could make it through these few days of discomfort, my dad said.

On Aug. 8, 2005, a black car picked me and my dad up at our house and drove us to the hospital to meet with Schuster

Keeping my dad, David Margulies, company as he donates. photo taken by a person in the room

for the procedure.

I had recently bought a wire to have music on my iPod play through a stereo via an unused radio station. The entire ride to the hospital, my dad and I fiddled with this barely working contraption, so we could sing Aerosmith and Yes songs together.

We arrived at the hospital, walked through the lobby and into the elevator where we lit up a floor button for our destination.

For the procedure, my dad sat in a chair for about five hours with a needle in each arm.

He could not move his arms. He could not stand up to stretch. He could not go to the bathroom.

His blood flowed out of one arm and into a centrifuge, separating out the wanted blood plasma and stem cells. The rest of his blood traveled from the centrifuge back into his other arm.

Anticoagulants in the blood returning to his body affected his blood concentration of calcium, an essential mineral to the body.

With extremely low calcium levels, my dad’s jaw locked shut. He could no longer speak.

Terrified, I ran for Schuster who immediately gave him calcium tablets to try to chew and swallow. This alleviated most of his lockjaw pain.

After enough stem cells and plasma accumulated in the plastic bags next to the centrifuge, a courier personally took the priceless gift and traveled to wherever in the world the recipient prepared for the donation.

After my dad finally got to go to the bathroom, we took the elevator back down to the lobby, and the car took us home.

For the following year, we could send letters to Gift of Life who would relay them to the unknown recipient. We also received health updates, the most exciting stating she was in remission.

Each time we got a letter from the family, it felt like Christmas. Gift of Life would cut the recipient’s name and other personal information out of the letter due to confidentiality requirements.

That did not matter, though. Although we desperately wanted to know who she was or where she lived, knowing that she touched this letter, and drew these pictures, made us all so happy.

One year after the procedure, on Aug. 8, 2006, my family released our information to the recipient’s family. We could finally share contact information. The once near-death child had a name — Marina. She lived on the Greek island Crete.

Marina–I call her my new sister.

Everyone in the St. Bonaventure University community has the opportunity to get swabbed through the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation.

Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) will host a swab drive on Monday and Tuesday,  Nov. 15 and 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Shay-Loughlen lounge. SIFE will also host a Community Blood Bank blood drive in the lounge.

“After the procedure, I felt almost as happy as when each of my daughters was born,” my dad said. “After all, I gave a young girl a new chance on life when she would have otherwise died.”

Not only have we written letters and e-mailed Marina and her family, but we now talk and share pictures on Facebook.

I cannot wait to finally meet her in person.

Would my dad do the procedure again? “Yes, in a heartbeat,” he said.

For more information on the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, go to http://www.giftoflife.org.

featured with minor changes in The Bona Venture

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