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A Donor’s Experience Donating Blood Stem Cells to Help Save a Stranger’s Life

(Far right) Mariela Rivé, Photo: Courtesy of Be the Match

When Mariela Rivé had an opportunity to potentially save a life, she didn’t hesitate.

Nine years ago, when her cousin was sick and needed a transplant, Rivé and her whole family registered for Be The Match®, the largest and most diverse marrow registry in the world.

Rivé did a cheek swab and a very simple registry. Ultimately, her cousin, who’s now in college, got better and did not need a donor. Fast forward to 2020 when Rivé got a phone call that she was a match for a patient in need. She was excited to donate and then got word the patientwasn’t ready yet.

Later this year, Rivé, a graphic artist, received another phone call. “I was shocked because they said, ‘the patient is ready and we need it now” 

Rivé was told she’d have to leave her native Puerto Rico and fly to Boca Raton, Florida to donate blood stem cells at a collection center. She wasn’t worried about donating but she was worried about traveling during the pandemic.. She flew out on a Sunday, and the procedure was the next day. Then on Wednesday, she returned home.

For the nine-hour donation process, Rivé she was connected to an IV and had her arm strapped to a chair. She describes the donation center as spa-like and says she spent the time watching Netflix and texting with her family. Her husband, 16-year-old son, and her parents waited anxiously at home.

The next day, Rivé went shopping and for a walk. Prior to her donation, she had taken preparation medicine for four days. Following the procedure, she couldn’t exercise for two weeks and she couldn’t take aspirin. Aside from that, she had no restrictions and felt healthy.

Well wishes

Even though Rivé has never met the recipient of her donation, she wrote the woman an anonymous note wishing her well. The whole process is anonymous during the first year after transplant. After that year, the donor and recipient can make direct contact if both consent to share their personal contact information. 

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“I’ve prayed so much for her,” says Rivé. “I always check my emails to see if I received an update from her. Hopefully, she’s doing great. I know it’s a long process, but I only wish for good news.” 

A very unselfish act

Every year thousands of people are diagnosed with life-threatening blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma. A transplant may save a life.

Statistically 1 in 430 donors will be a match for a patient in need. Like Rivé, if you’re needed as a match, Be The Match will reach out to you to donate either marrow.

Rivé says being a donor was the right thing to do and says she would do it again, if called upon. 

Be The Match kept her informed and let her know what would happen every step of the way. She encourages others to register to be a potential donor too. That simple cheek swab now could pay off later. 

“You never know what could happen to your family, it could happen to your son, your daughter, your sister,” she says. “And wouldn’t you like somebody to donate for you?

“You have to do it, you just have to do it it’s a beautiful experience. For me it was not painful. And it’s so rewarding. And it’s a very unselfish act, I never thought I was this unselfish. When I received that call, I absolutely said yes. ‘No’ never crossed my mind.”

For more information about being a donor: join.bethematch.org/planetmariela

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