Lizzie’s Journey Comes Full Circle

At a college drive in 2014, Lizzie Wilkerson heard a phrase that sparked her interest, so she swabbed her cheeks and joined the bone marrow donor registry.

"What grabbed me was that I could give someone a second chance at life. I thought it was so cool that what’s inside our bodies could help someone else survive."

A few months later, when Lizzie learned she was a match for a patient, her motivation to donate hit much closer to home. “My dad passed away of cancer in August 2005,” she explained. “If I could give someone more time to spend with their loved ones, of course I would.”

Just 9 months after she registered, Lizzie arrived to donate at the very same hospital where her dad was treated.

“The night before donation, it was like going to bed on Christmas Eve – I was so excited,” she said. “It felt great giving someone a second chance at life in the place where my dad spent so much time at the end of his.”

With her mom and sister by her side, Lizzie donated stem cells to help a woman with a bone marrow failure disorder.

It was so simple to donate, nothing more than an IV stick,” she said. “It was easy compared to what this patient was going through, or what my dad went through. Even as an 11-year-old I could see how hard it was for him.

As she thought more about the person she was helping, Lizzie’s simple act became profoundly more meaningful. “This woman is probably a mom or even a grandma. This could give her more time with family and a chance to experience more of those ‘can’t miss’ moments.”

After donating, Lizzie had a new focus. When she returned to campus, she hosted a 4-day drive that added 380 new potential bone marrow donors to the registry.

“I felt I had a positive story to motivate and inspire people to register,” she said. “I was there to say ‘It’s not hard or painful – it’s easy and it feels so good.’ I hope we were able to register someone who will be able to make a difference.”

In June 2015, Lizzie joined the DKMS team as a summer intern at our New York City location. While working, she got to ring the “Bell of Hope,” a bell that commemorates the moment when a bone marrow or stem cell donation takes place.

I knew that the bell rang for me when I donated, and it brought tears to my eyes to get to ring it for someone else.