Santa Monica man meets woman who received his stem cells
A young Santa Monica man recently had the chance to meet a woman whose life he saved with a stem cell donation.
Jonah Sharf met Amber Delgado this past Monday, March 25 at a Gift of Life Marrow Registry reception held in Washington, D.C. Sharf joined the marrow registry in 2017 on a whim during a Birthright Israel trip and was called to donate to Delgado, who had leukemia, just five months later.
While the donation went off without a hitch, the duo’s face-to-face took time as law dictates that donors and recipients must remain anonymous for at least one year.
“It was definitely emotional,” the 23-year old Sharf said about meeting Delgado “I was processing everything as they called me on stage … It was really cool to learn who she was, what she’s been through. I’m very glad we got to meet.”
The 31-year Delgado shared Sharf’s sentiments.
“At first, I was nervous, scared,” she said about meeting Sharf. “You don’t know what this person will be like. You don’t see people donating that age for anything. But he’s what I thought he’d be, a nice person that gave to this woman, this young mother. It’s just things like that.”
Before the donation and before the meeting, the two were strangers on opposite ends of the country, at completely different stages of their lives.
Delgado, located in Holiday, Florida, was a mother of one with a 4-year old daughter when she was diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia.
“It was really scary,” Delgado said. “I thought, ‘Am I going to die?’ I felt I was too young to die. I wanted to take care of my kids.”
Sharf was fresh out of college and barely old enough to drink when he was taking a trip in Israel. The group he was with was approached by Gift of Life Marrow Registry, a public bone marrow and blood stem cell registry. Gift of Life gave a demonstration that had an impact on Sharf.
“It made me think,” Sharf said. “I thought, why not do it? I figured I might get a match and help someone’s life or I just never get a call and nothing ever happens. Win-win situation. I was raised and taught that you can’t really turn down a chance to save someone’s life, even if it’s a small chance.”
Sharf gave a cheek swab to the registry and went about his day. Months went by after Sharf’s donation.
At a routine cancer checkup, Delgado was informed by her doctor that there was a high percentage stem cell match in the registry that could help keep the leukemia at bay, should the donor go through with the procedure.
Both donor and recipient agreed.
Sharf went through five days of injections, injections that would help his body speed up the process of creating stem cells. After the week of injections, Shard sat in a “large, lounge-like chair” with needles in his arms for roughly seven hours. His mother, girlfriend and girlfriend’s sister kept him company, watching TV and talking to kill the time.
“It was a little arduous,” Sharf said of the procedure. “I got pretty sweaty, I mainly remember that. Wasn’t too bad of a process.”
Delgado had an arduous process as well, and much like Sharf, shakes it all off.
“I had to go through five days of hardcore chemo,” she said. “Day of transplant, they gave me what he donated. After that, I was in the hospital for a month and a half.”
Sharf went about his life, getting a job at a business development firm. Delgado went about hers, having twins and finding a new lease on life, soon discovering she was 100% cancer free, which she remains to this day.
“I don’t take a day for granted,” she said.
But the two always wondered what the other was like.
After a little over a year, Gift of Life connected the two.
“It took some time, but they told me her name, gave me her email, told us we could meet,” Sharf said. I thought about cyberstalking her, looking her up, but I wanted to be surprised. As they announced her on stage, that’s when they told the full story about her. It was a powerful moment knowing I effectively saved a life, this mother of three.”
Delgado says she’ll never forget the young man that gave her — and her family — a second chance.
“My girls are young and didn’t know exactly what was going on,” Delgado said. “I told them, ‘Jonah made mommy better.’ I met him and we talked and stuff, got to know each other. He had to fly out the next morning, but I have him on Facebook. He’s a great person.”