Ari Sapin gives ‘gift of life’ with bone marrow donation to leukemia patient
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Ari Sapin gives ‘gift of life’ with bone marrow donation to leukemia patient

Thanks to a bone marrow donation from 21-year-old River Edge resident Ari Sapin, a 29-year-old man suffering from leukemia has a new hope of survival.

Sapin, a senior at Rutgers, does not know the identity or nationality of the recipient. All he knows is that a tissue sample he provided to the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation came up as an exact match for this gravely ill patient.

The donation took place during Sapin’s Birthright Israel tour in January. “On the trip, we heard from a representative from the Gift of Life, an organization that adds donors to a worldwide patient registry so that bone marrow recipients can find matches more efficiently and quickly,” he said. “Everyone on the trip gave a cheek swab to be put into the system and they said if we were ever a potential match we would get a call and have the option to go through with the entire process or not. I didn’t think anything of it because I knew people that have been on the list for decades and have never gotten a call.”

Just six months later, a representative of Gift of Life informed Sapin that he was a potential match.

“I decided to go through with the process,” Sapin related. “I was shocked by the call coming so soon, but I knew 100 percent that I was going to go through with it.”

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Ari Sapin is attached to the transfusion apparatus during a process called apheresis. Courtesy Joy Sapin

After talking over his decision with his parents, Marc and Joy Sapin, he underwent a battery of blood work to confirm that his blood and tissue were compatible with the recipient’s. After this was confirmed, he was given an appointment at Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan for a complete physical. By late September, all the preliminary testing was done and he was deemed ready to proceed.

“In the past, there has only been one type of bone marrow transplant, which requires the doctors to take the bone marrow from the hip bone,” he explained. “Recently, there has been a different procedure that some doctors are requesting called peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC). It is entirely up to the patient’s doctors which procedure they think will provide better results for their patient. My recipient’s doctors requested a PBSC donation.”

A nurse come to inject Sapin with a drug called Filgrastim for five days to raise his stem cell count. On Oct. 19, he went to Cornell for apheresis, where whole blood is drawn from one arm, the desired components are separated out, and the remaining fluids are transfused back through the other arm. This technique is most frequently used to collect platelets from blood donors.

“I have donated blood before, but I had never done apheresis,” said Sapin, who was already feeling a bit achy as a side effect of the Filgrastim. “I was attached [to the transfusion apparatus] for six hours.” Though it was a bit tiring and uncomfortable, this procedure is much less invasive than the hip bone aspiration normally used for marrow donations – and, as Sapin pointed out, “what I went through can’t compare to what the recipient is going through.”

Accompanied by his mother, Sapin was approached by a recent marrow recipient who was there at the same time. He told the Sapins that his own brother had saved his life through this same procedure. “It was one of the best feelings I ever got, having that man tell me I was doing a wonderful thing. To be able to save someone’s life, even indirectly, is truly amazing.”

In another year, if the recipient agrees, Sapin will be permitted to find out his identity. In the meantime, “Gift of Life will track his status and let me know how he’s doing.”

The cell biology and neuroscience major is busy applying to medical schools but when time permits he would like to try to get many more people to join the registry. He is considering organizing a drive at college, and his younger sister may do one as a project for her upcoming bat mitzvah at the Jewish Community Center of Paramus.

In 2004, another Rutgers senior, Teaneck native Ilana Polack, donated bone marrow as a result of a Gift of Life recruitment drive on the Rutgers campus. Her husband, Rutgers graduate David Adams, gave a PBSC donation in August 2008 that saved the life of a 64-year-old man.

To date, the Gift of Life public bone marrow, blood stem cell, and umbilical cord blood registry has 174,241 registered donors, has made 7,096 matches, and facilitated 2,160 transplants. The registry was founded in 1991 to identify a lifesaving match for West Orange resident Jay Feinberg and was the first registry in the world to recruit donors online via its website, giftoflife.org.

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