Health It's Just A Cheek Swab

Part 5: Musings While I Wait And a Florida Trip

Late December 2014 – early January  2015

My oldest daughter, Rosie, and I left for Florida so she could dance in the All American Halftime Show in the Citrus Bowl on New Years Day. This was her trip and her time to shine. I dove into it, making the week all about her and her friends and the incredible way the choreography of 420 girls from around the country came together in a short time. It was a perfect week and it had nothing to do with me, or the thoughts swirling in my mind surrounding the donation, and I kept it all separate.

That’s not to say it wasn’t on my mind. I knew I wouldn’t hear from Ana that week, but that didn’t stop me from checking to see if she had emailed me. I spent a lot of time on line at Epcot and Universal thinking about Cousin Bob, wondering how he was feeling, if he had family, if he was scared. I wondered if he knew he had a match, even though I hadn’t been medically cleared yet (I found out later that the answer to that was yes. He was told he had a match when I was identified. Personally, I wasn’t sure that was so smart. What if I wasn’t medically ok to donate?). I wondered if we were biologically related in some way (I’m still going with yes). I wondered on which side of the family (I’m going with my mother’s side).

I thought a lot about that question my son had asked while I was on my way to my physical at ANOVA in Virginia. What if I was donating to a terrorist who had killed Jews? Not that I thought I was. In fact, the question of what kind of person I was donating to, the character of that person, never entered my mind. It is a person’s life, after all. I’m pretty sure that no one is requesting character references when someone is in need of a stem cell transplant, or any type of transplant. In fact, if transplants were based on how “good” a person was, I suspect there would be many fewer transplant recipients and most of them would be children who haven’t yet had a chance to do anything not considered good. My mind also wandered over the thought (listen, I am human) of what if I somehow discovered I was donating to someone I disliked. Let’s say I disliked this person a great deal. Let’s say I even hated this person. I even quickly reviewed the very short list of people I dislike in my mind to see if any of them fit the criteria of male, age 53. Nope. But what if they did? What if? What if? Would it matter? Should it matter? What if this person did something terrible to me? Would I want to be involved in saving this person’s life? Should I want to? Well, yes, I should. That is the easy answer. That is the answer that a “good” person would give, should give. Am I a good person? Well, people are saying so, especially now. But am I? Sometimes yes. Sometimes not so much. Would I knowingly give my stem cells to a person who hurt me terribly? Who I despised? In order to save their wretched life? Sigh. Dang it, I would. However, I wouldn’t want them to know it came from me. Aha. Perhaps now I understand part of why the process must be anonymous.

Now here I was, on line at Universal, having decided I would in fact donate (anonymously) my life saving stem cells to my enemy in order to save his life when my mind wandered (ah the wandering mind) again to my son’s question of the terrorist. Not exactly to saving the terrorist’s life, but more to the idea of the terrorist. The idea that while I am preparing to save a life (admittedly in the easiest way a person can save another person’s life…it’s not like I’m rushing into a burning building or taking a bullet for someone), somewhere in the world another person is preparing to end someone’s life because they are Jewish. This part was hard for me to think about and hard to decide to write about and I only did because my dear wise friend Sue also thought of it. I figured if I thought it, and she thought it, maybe someone else would connect with it also. The idea shook me, and felt very out of place on line at Harry Potter. Except, now that I had thought of it, there it was, and it wouldn’t go away. Of course, not all terrorists are solely interested in killing Jews. I am donating stem cells through an organization that was founded by a Jewish person (Jay Feinberg) who found his match in another Jewish person (it’s genetic, remember?), and the Gift of Life had a bone marrow drive at my kids’ school which is a yeshiva (again, Jewish), and my recipient is likely of a similar genetic background to me (eastern European and Jewish, even if he doesn’t know it). The whole Jewish thing is kind of out there. Plus, living where I do and being part of an Orthodox community, we really can’t ever escape the Jews-are-always-a-target way of thinking, especially these days, when I’m sorry to say, it is as true as ever.

I wish I could say I had a deep revelation about the soul of man, but all it did was make me sad. On one side there is killing and hate and on the other love and giving and healing. It was then that I realized, and as insane as I realize this will make me sound, I love my recipient and want a full and complete healing (refuah shulaimah) for him. I can’t do anything about the hate and terror in the world. I have only stem cells and love to give with an open heart. And give them I will.

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About the author

Alyssa Gilbert

Alyssa lives in the Five Towns with her husband, four kids, 2 dogs and a cat. She loves all things zen and yoga and has just finished school to become a PT.

Alyssa encourages everyone to get their cheeks swabbed and potentially save another's life. For more info, please visit

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