Zak Blumer

Life-saving stem cell donor Zak Blumer, right, and his recipient, Joel Wolpe, left, show off their personalized Florida Panthers hockey jerseys after meeting for the first time before a game Nov. 16, thanks to the Gift of Life Marrow Registry and the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in Florida.

When Zak Blumer of Pataskala joined the Gift of Life Marrow Registry in 2013, he didn’t expect anything to come from it.

“The initial swabbing was pretty much effortless,” said Blumer, who joined the registry during a swab drive by his brother’s Jewish fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, as an undergraduate at Ohio University in Athens.

“I just sort of forgot about it,” he added.

Now a materials science and engineering graduate student at the university, Blumer, 23, explained, “Over a year later – it might’ve been even more than that – they gave me a call and said I was a match.”

Recalling he was curious about the donation process and nervous it might be painful, Blumer said he was also concerned Gift of Life might not be able to accommodate his busy schedule.

“But the people at Gift of Life basically offered themselves to help in any way they could,” Blumer told the Columbus Jewish News Jan. 6. The nonprofit organization “explained everything in as much detail as I needed, and they made me feel even more that it was really a no-brainer to go ahead and do it,” he said.

The recipient of Blumer’s stem cells was Joel Wolpe, 72, a retired attorney from Coconut Grove, Fla. After being diagnosed with adult acute myeloid leukemia in 2016, Wolpe underwent chemotherapy before receiving the stem cell transplant at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in Miami, Fla., in 2018.

Blumer and Wolpe got the opportunity to meet in Florida at a Nov. 16 National Hockey League faceoff between the Florida Panthers and the New York Rangers. The Gift of Life Marrow Registry and the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center arranged the meeting on Hockey Fights Cancer Night.

“We go through life, and we think all the things we experience day-to-day are so important, and most of them aren’t, but when you realize you have two months to live unless you get treatment, and you won’t live more than a couple of years if you don’t get a transplant, and they’ve got to find someone, somewhere who is a match for you, you realize what’s important,” Wolpe said in a Nov. 18 Gift of Life news release. “You realize there are really good people in this world, like Zak. I keep saying to Zak: Thank you is not enough. God willing I’ll be here a long time, and he and I will get to know each other.”

Blumer described meeting Wolpe as one of the coolest moments of his life.

“And definitely the most rewarding part of the whole experience,” Blumer added. All he had been told was that the recipient

was an “elderly man,” Blumer said, noting he initially thought it might be someone in Israel.

“A lot of your DNA has to be related to the patient; I’m Jewish from Eastern Europe, so it was likely that the patient was also,” Blumer explained. “He is Jewish, but he’s living in Miami, Fla., and closer than I would’ve ever expected.”