Some people spend their last few days before college graduation partying with friends. Some spend it cramming for finals. Others spend it in a state of denial about entering the adult world.
But 21-year-old Ben Kanas did none of that leading up to his virtual graduation to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in public management, leadership and policy May 3 from The Ohio State University in Columbus.
He instead underwent a peripheral blood stem cell donation on April 27 to hopefully save the life of a stranger.
His journey to the donation started during a Birthright Israel trip in December 2017 with Ohio State Hillel. A representative from Gift of Life – a nonprofit registry that organizes transplants for individuals suffering from life-threatening blood cancers and genetic diseases – spoke to Kanas’ group about the importance of having their cheeks swabbed to test for tissue type, potentially allowing them to serve as donors for those in need.
Kanas’ hand shot up when his group was asked to get swabbed for the registry.
“I think what prompted me was that the need was so compelling,” said Kanas, a Bexley resident who attends Congregation Tifereth Israel in Columbus. “It wasn’t a big deal to get my cheek swabbed and to enter the registry because the chances were so low (of being a match). But I was willing to take those chances – and if the call ever came, I would do it. Just thinking about the community and the small sacrifice I could give to help save someone else’s life, I wouldn’t turn that down for anything.”
A little over two years later, Kanas received a call from Gift of Life while walking between classes this past January. He learned his tissue type had a match – a call only one in 1,900 Gift of Life donors receive on average yearly, according to the Gift of Life website.
“It was incredible,” he said. “They explained what it means and the process going forward – in my head it was already ‘yes’ for me to do it.”
The Gift of Life caller gave Kanas as much information as they legally could about his match: a 59-year-old woman with acute myeloid leukemia. After a blood test, it was confirmed in March he was a 100% match.
Then, the organization coordinated with OSU’s Wexner Medical Center’s The James Comprehensive Cancer Center in Columbus to allow him to donate there instead of traveling to its collection site in Florida.
On April 22, he started receiving injections of Neupogen, a medication to stimulate his bone marrow to produce new cells. His newly created stem cells then entered his bloodstream at a higher rate, meaning they were accessible through his blood.
On the fifth day of injections, Kanas went to the hospital for his donation. An IV was placed into each arm, and blood was removed from one arm and put into an apheresis machine that spun his blood and separated it between the different layers to siphon off the stem cells. His blood, removed of stem cells, was restored to his body through the other IV.
The entire process took about five hours, during which he could watch movies or read.
“It was really a painless process other than the needles and sitting in a chair for five hours,” Kanas said.
Ten minutes after the process, Kanas walked out of the hospital. He felt a little tired, but that night he was studying for finals feeling fine.
Kanas anxiously awaits a phone call from Gift of Life in about a month to update him on how the transplant went for his match.
He has the opportunity to send a letter to her, which has to be kept anonymous for a year per Gift of Life’s security guidelines. After that year, if he and his match agree, they can correspond however they chose.
Kanas said depending on the procedure and if his match is willing, he’d like to meet her someday to hear her story.
“My only hope is that I inspire others to do the same,” he said. “What people forget oftentimes during this pandemic is that people are still battling cancer. Even during this time you can save a life.”