An Open Letter to the Person I Donated My Stem Cells To

We don’t know each other, but thank you. From the bottom of my heart. My name is Christina Muggeo and I was the donor for your bone marrow transplant.

This is me during my peripheral blood stem cell donation. I appreciated that Dr. van den Brink came to visit.

I’m very familiar with leukemia, lymphoma, and other forms of blood cancer. I’ve worked at Memorial Sloan Kettering since 2014, and in 2015 started in the Division of Hematologic Malignancies under Marcel van den Brink. Marcel is one of the world’s leading experts on blood cancer. He showed me how treatment options for bone marrow and blood cancer have been underrepresented within cancer care.

I’ve realized how easy it is to contribute; testing to see if you’re a match for someone is as simple as a cheek swab. And though finding a match for a bone marrow transplant is a numbers game, seeing that look of hope on the face of patients at MSK reminded me that keeping those numbers up is so important.

My reasons for saying thank you, though, are more personal. In 2015, I lost four family members to cancer. Losing someone to cancer is heart wrenching. To go through it four times in the same year? I don’t want someone else to experience that. I want your family to have you around. So thank you for allowing me that opportunity.

As part of the donation process, donor and patient are kept mostly anonymous; only basic facts are allowed. But when they told me you were around my dad’s age, it struck another chord in me. I realized that this really could happen to anyone, without warning. Even my own dad.

Dr. van den Brink (far left) and my mom and dad were with me during the donation. Jack Kirkland (far right) from DKMS also dropped in to see how I was doing.

I thought of how good-hearted he has always been. So kind, so easy-going, so caring. He’s a man who has celebrated my accomplishments and helped me through my struggles. I know that I’m privileged to have someone like that in my life. Not everyone does. But I bet you are that person for someone in your life. And if there was even a fraction of a chance to keep that light alive then I’d be selfish to not do anything I could. You’re in your 60s, you still have so much life left to live and things to teach the world!

Thank you for giving me another opportunity to speak about this cause. Lots of people are skeptical about bone marrow donation. The procedure sounds intense for donors, but thanks to my time under Marcel I knew that it’s actually a straightforward procedure. The majority of the donation is the transmission of blood and stem cells. And though it can take several hours, even up to two days depending on the patient in need, you’re just sitting and waiting as it’s all drawn between IVs. In fact, I was already hooked up within 20 minutes of arriving on the day I donated! I’ve been to restaurants that aren’t even that efficient.

That’s me all hooked up. It happened so fast, but it was a smooth process for me.

Thank you for letting me help you. I know that it’s hard to ask for help in life in general, let alone when it’s about a life-threatening situation. I’ve seen how taxing treatment can be on the body and on family members. That I was able to help with that, even a small amount, is an honor.

And finally, thank you for helping me learn more about myself. Donating has opened me up in a way I didn’t expect. I’m more excited about life and the opportunities I have ahead of me. I am more optimistic and have an easier time looking for solutions to problems.

It helped me put everything in perspective. I am very privileged to be healthy, to be alive, to be able to give back. It’s something I feel is important to check in with and remind myself of each day. My worst day, no matter what’s going on, will never be as bad as what you’ve experienced.

And now here you are, on the other side of it, with a new lease on life. What will you do next? Will you take a trip? Will you attend a class? Maybe you just go back to your day-to-day routine? All of these options sound incredible and beautiful. Whatever you choose to do will be yours.

Donation is about being part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s about giving back to the world in a way that makes a very real, and very direct impact on the lives of others. While I gave some small part of my physical, you gave back to me incredible emotional strength that I will value for the rest of my life.

I know I don’t know you. But I’ll never forget you.

With Love,