Sharing a Second Chance at Life

Slightly more than a year ago, Aaron Lesiak (SJCS, Class of 2012) was enjoying his junior year at Presbyterian College in Clinton. At SJCS, he was a wonderful student and a cog on the run of state baseball championships by the Knights.


He had selected PC as the college of his choice and was playing college baseball for the Blue Hose.


But as part of the Student Athlete Advising Committee, Aaron had his fingers on the pulse of all that was going on at PC.


It was in the late fall/early winter of his junior year through the SAAC that Aaron first heard about bone marrow transplants, a vital lifeline of hope for critically ill cancer patients. “We held a cheek swab event at a PC basketball to register people for the bone marrow donor registry,” Aaron said.


“I saw that it could potentially give someone a second chance at a healthy life, and I was all for that,” he said. But the odds of being a compatible donor are slim, so Aaron didn’t give a lot of thought when he agreed to do the swab in January 2015.


But the long shot came through. Aaron was informed by email that he was a potential bone marrow donor this past September. An ensuing blood test confirmed that he was a perfect match for a 54-year-old woman who lived overseas and had Acute Myeloid Leukemia. A short trip to Emory University in Atlanta for a physical determined that he was healthy enough to be a donor.


So on December 8th of last year – during finals week and the day before his birthday no less – Aaron donated his peripheral blood stem cells. Actually, it’s accurate to say Aaron endured the donation.


He had to have injections four days before the actual procedure to set his body up for the donation. “These shots were the worst part (because) they give your body extremely bad aches and it makes doing anything, even sleeping, quite the task,” Aaron said. “The medicine tricks your body into thinking you have an infection so your white blood cell count goes crazy high. At some points I could feel my bones throbbing which was cool in a weird way.


“The doctors at Emory used Aphaeresis technology to take blood out of one arm, pass it through an apparatus that picks out the stem cells containing the bone marrow, and sends my blood back into my other arm. This process lasted about 4.5 hours … and I had to remain perfectly still the whole time.


“After it was collected in a bag that was hung (like an IV bag but bigger), the stem cells were taken across the hall to be processed and were quickly shipped out to the woman in need of the transplant,” Aaron said.


Interestingly the woman may inherit some interesting traits from Aaron. “She will have some similarities with me such as allergies. I’m allergic to cats, so she may take (that) on.”


As for whether benefactor will ever meet recipient, that’s up to the woman. Both the donor and the recipient have to sign forms stating they would like to meet the other.


So why would a healthy, athletic college senior put this on his plate? The answer, at least partially, is family. “Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve them because they go above and beyond to make sure I have what I need and they are so selfless,” said Aaron.


He also credits his former SJCS baseball coaches. The leadership “taught our team to be selfless and to act like Jesus did when He gave us grace.” Aaron also mentioned his PC compliance officer and PC baseball coach with being incredibly influential in his life.


As for the future, Aaron is a redshirt junior on the baseball team. His tentative plans include going to The Citadel for graduate school (heath, exercise and sports science) and complete his college baseball eligibility there. Aaron’s dream? To play baseball professionally.


But he already has fulfilled someone else’s dream of another chance at life. And Aaron has found a cause he has become passionate about: bone marrow donation. “I am trying to spread the word that it is so easy to register for this process, and it really isn’t that bad,” he said. “If I got the call tomorrow, you bet I’d be in the hospital bed for four hours to donate more stem cells.”