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Austin resident donates bone marrow to 22-year-old stranger in Italy

Samantha Serrell hopes her story encourages others to join the bone marrow donation registry to help give cancer patients a second chance at life.

AUSTIN, Texas — An act of kindness that knows no distance. When Austin resident Samantha Serrell, 31, received news that she had matched with a 22-year-old leukemia patient from Italy for a bone marrow transplant, she jumped at the opportunity to give this man hope. 

"I think about him every day and he is always going to be with me and I feel so grateful for that," Serrell said after completing her donation in September.

Serrell joined the bone marrow registry through Be the Match in 2017. For years, she carried on with her life and became a radiation therapist to help cancer patients. 

Four years later, Serrell finally got the call in August that she was a match.

"A recipient can have several different matches and potential matches. I ended up being the best one," she said. 

Since the bone marrow registry matches based on genetics not blood type, 70% of recipients do not have a fully matched donor in their family and rely on unrelated donors, according to Be the Match.

During the span of a month, Serrell prepared for the donation. In September, she flew to Washington, D.C., to make the donation which was then transported to Italy. 

Serrell described the experience as challenging but worthwhile. She experienced some pain from the shots leading up to the procedure, but she said support from Be the Match prepared her every step of the way. 

While Serrell was gone, she also experienced unexpected tragedy with the death of her dog 

"It was very odd to lose, you know, our family, a personal member of our family, while also donating and trying to save a life at the same time," Serrell said. 

Despite these challenges, Serrell said she would repeat this all over again. 

While she does not know who her recipient is due to privacy reasons, she said that she thinks about him every day.

"I think about his family. I think about if he survives, what he can do, who he can be, who he loves, who he loves now," she said.

Serrell hopes her story encourages others to sign up for the bone marrow registry and help save lives. 

A patient’s likelihood of having a matched, available donor on the Be the Match Registry ranges from 29% to79%, depending on their ethnic background, according to data from Be the Match. 

The likelihood for a white person to find a match is nearly 80%. Hispanic people have a 48% chance and Black people 29% chance of finding a match.

"When you look at that diversity, we are hoping to add individuals of all ethnic backgrounds to become a part of someone's cure for cancer," said Leticia Mondragon, account manager for South Texas, Be the Match.

The organization has facilitated more than 108,000 transplants since 1987. Along the way, Mondragon explained that the process has gotten easier on donors. 

"Only 20% of the procedures now are outpatient surgical procedures and 80% are peripheral stem cell donations, very similar to a platelet or plasma donation," she explained. 

Anyone interested in putting their name on the registry can visit Be the Match's website. If you already registered, but have not updated your contact information, Mondragon said that can be completed on the website as well. 

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