Published: May 17, 2024

Editor's Note: The following article features J. Michael Higgins (Tau/Florida 2023). It was originally published by the Gift of Life Marrow Registry and was reprinted with permission from Traci Ackerman. 

Michael was a student at the University of Florida when he attended a luncheon held by his fraternity, Theta Chi, where a Gift of Life Campus Ambassador explained the organization’s lifesaving mission and invited the fraternity members to swab their cheeks to join the marrow registry.

“I swabbed, why not, it seemed like a good cause to be part of,” said Michael.

Less than a year later, Michael, 22, was contacted by a Gift of Life staff member who explained that he was a match for a 58-year-old man battling Acute Myelogenous Leukemia.

“I was at my house when I got the call, but I wasn’t expecting to get matched as quickly as I did,” he said. “I remember thinking ‘didn’t I just swab four or five months ago?’ I said yes, I was going to donate. Immediately after I got off the call I told everyone and anyone because of how cool of an experience it is. Having an opportunity to help save someone and give them a second chance at life is surreal.”

"I feel so grateful because I had the opportunity to potentially give someone a second chance at was a great experience."

“It wasn’t debilitating, but I did experience some knee and joint discomfort,” said Michael. “The way I look at it I have these annoying side effects for five days while someone in a hospital bed is hoping I can give them enough stem cells to continue living.”

Since Michael lived only a few hours away in Orlando, Gift of Life organized a car service to bring him and his mother to Delray Beach, Fla.

“We stayed in a nice hotel, and my mom wanted to make a weekend of it,” said Michael. “The hotel Gift of Life arranged was great. It was really close to the water which was super nice. We were able to explore and walk up and down Atlantic Ave. We went to the beach a few times and lounged pool side. We did all the touristy stuff we could.”

On the day of his donation, a car service brought Michael and his mom to the Adelson Collection Center in Boca Raton just a short distance from his hotel.

“The donation took about 4 ½ - 5 hours,” said Michael. “We both tried to read a little, but it was difficult for me to read with only one arm, as the other one had to stay still. We watched some Netflix episodes of a show, and a movie, Father Stu, but before we knew it, it was over.”

Michael was pleased at how well things went, but his donation experience didn’t end there. Six months after his first donation, he was asked to donate blood stem cells a second time to help his recipient during his recovery.

“When I received the call, I was a little nervous for my recipient,” said Michael. “But I found out that he is in remission, it’s just that his levels aren’t as high as the doctors would like them to be, so I relaxed a bit. My second donation went very well with no issues. After two days I was already feeling perfectly back to normal.”

“I feel so grateful because I had the opportunity to potentially give someone a second chance at life,” he said. “I feel like it’s kind of my job now to advocate, to spread the message of what Gift of Life is doing. It’s not that hard to join the registry, and the organization makes it really easy if you are called as a match. It was a great experience overall.”

Michael, 22, is a student at the University of Florida majoring in sports management and is a member of the Theta Chi fraternity. When not in class, Michael enjoys weight training, playing basketball and golf, and reading memoirs and nonfiction about the history of Old Florida. 

You can read the original article here.