One truly never knows when their words or actions may have an effect on another’s life. One such lesson was recently lived by Oakdale resident James Da Rosa, after following through on a fleeting thought.
A thought or inspiration which first came to him close to five years ago after reading an article about being a bone marrow donor.
“I thought that was something I could do,” the father of two said, noting not having an aversion to needles or hospitals. “If I could help somebody why wouldn’t I do that?”
Yet time passed and his intentions went unacted upon.
“What finally got me to follow through was a story in the Oakdale Leader about a Veteran that had been a donor,” he recalled from a few years ago. Da Rosa added that not only was the story inspiring, but the Veteran’s selflessness helped save another’s life.
Within weeks Da Rosa reached out and registered with the ‘Be the Match’ program. He was sent a kit to swab his mouth for DNA and possible matches. In less than six months, he was contacted by the organization.
“I knew very little at first other than it was a six-year-old boy from Brazil,” the donor said of learning they had found a recipient for his bone marrow match. “I really didn’t have any expectations as to who or what, so I was taken aback when I did find out it was such a young child.”
Once the recipient was identified, Da Rosa was directed to the organization’s transplant center in Berkeley. The donation came about in a same day process he described as pain free and relatively easy. Be the Match covered all expenses including hotel accommodations prior to and after the procedure.
Knowledge of the recipient beyond the minimal details, however, remained confidential for the first 18 months. He was informed, though, that he was a 100 percent match with the child.
“They say 70 percent of the time you won’t be a 100 percent match,” he shared. “So the odds were really good that he was going to be able to accept my bone marrow.”
Da Rosa also hoped to learn more about how the process worked on the other end.
“I had always said I’m open if they are,” he stated of getting to know the recipient, Samuel Leao and his family. “When that 18 months hit, they actually reached out themselves. I thought perfect, because I’d been waiting for this day.”
In April of this year, Da Rosa was contacted by the Be the Match’s Brazilian affiliate, inviting he and his family to attend a Bone Marrow donor conference, as well as meet Samuel.
“Luckily we got everything just in time,” he said of passports, flights and travel plans with the two-month window. The Brazilian organization covered the expense for the family to make the trip and attend the conference.
Da Rosa shared the families had been in touch prior to their June meeting. Through their communication he had learned that Samuel’s energy level had improved almost immediately after receiving his marrow. So much so, that the young UFC enthusiast had shared with his parents he was certain his donor must’ve been American Mixed Martial Arts fighter Jon Jones.
Yet when the Oakdale resident and Brazilian family finally united earlier this month, the recipient upon learning who his donor was, was more than fine with it.
“I just felt elated,” Da Rosa said of first meeting the family and seeing the boy who is now 8. “It was a magnificent feeling to see him there and hug him in person. It was amazing. It was just amazing to see him.”
During their stay in Brazil the Da Rosa family spent all of their time with Samuel and his family. A bond, Da Rosa likened to that of a long lost family member they hadn’t seen in a while.
“It definitely was beyond my expectations,” he said of meeting Samuel. “I was not expecting that. I had just hoped to get some good news and find out that he was doing well now. That’s all I was looking for.
“To be able to meet his family,” he continued, “and have them be able to share their gratitude towards me for helping save his life … That was amazing.”
Now home and back in Oakdale, Da Rosa feels compelled to share the wealth and motivate others to explore the bone marrow donor option.
“The biggest thing is if I was in someone else’s shoes and I knew someone could save my child’s or loved one’s life just by donating marrow, how could I not do that for them?” he said.
The experience brought him unexpected joy, another benefit of the donation.
“None of us expected we would come to know this family,” he shared honestly. “Now we get to watch the family grow.”
To learn more about Be the Match and becoming a bone marrow donor, visit www.bethematch.org.
“It was the greatest life experience I’ve ever had,” Da Rosa stated. “It just felt like family. Like we belonged there and they belonged to us. I would definitely do it again. No questions asked.”