FAU Lacrosse players partner with Gift of Life to donate stem cells to cancer patients

Lacrosse player Adam LeBlanc joined the Gift of Life Marrow registry and donated stem cells to a matched patient, giving them a chance at a new life.


Courtesy of Traci Ackerman

Adam LeBlance joined the Gift of Life registry in November 2021 to help patients diagnosed with blood cancer.

Isabella Visbal, Contributing Writer

Small actions can go a long way, especially in the health field. There are thousands of diseases in the world today and doctors aren’t the only people who can help cure them. 

With smaller contributions like donating blood or advocating for those suffering a certain illness, anyone can have a direct influence on whether or not a person lives. One of Florida Atlantic University’s students, Adam LeBlanc, decided to do his part and donate stem cells with the help of the Gift of Life Marrow registry. 

The Gift of Life Marrow registry is an organization local to Boca Raton that focuses on blood cancer and the treatment of cellular therapy to cure it. Blood cancer consists of three different types: Leukemia, Lymphoma, and Myeloma. All of these have a direct and even terminal impact on the human body and its systems. 

The registry reached out to the FAU men’s lacrosse team, which LeBlanc is a member of, last November. They specifically interacted with the team because of the “Lacrosse Swab Off” challenge, which Gift of Life created in memory of a patient who was also a lacrosse player. They educated the players about their organization and collected swab samples to test compatibility with patients.

Courtesy of Traci Ackerman

From this, LeBlanc decided to join the registry when he was deemed a positive match. He underwent the necessary exams such as a physical and blood work, and completed the transplant. He claims the donation process “could not have been any easier.”  

“All the staff at Gift of Life are extremely helpful, informative, and friendly; the facilities were so accommodating to all my needs, and the procedure itself was very comfortable,” explained LeBlanc.

With the help of the registry, FAU students and staff members can sign up to donate and do their part in curing the diseases. Since the most common factors that affect finding a match are race and ethnicity, FAU’s diverse student body and its proximity to the organization make it a perfect place to recruit potential donors. 

Jay Feinberg founded the registry in 1991, as he was diagnosed with Leukemia at the age of 23. Doctors gave Feinberg little chance to survive his diagnosis because his brothers were not a match to his human leukocyte antigens (HLA) for a bone marrow transplant, according to Traci Ackerman, a recruitment manager for Gift of Life. HLA is determined by and based on hereditary traits. Ackerman claims the genetic match needs to be “almost identical,” which he says the chances of finding one are one in 200.

Upon receiving the devastating news, Feinberg decided to make it his life’s mission to make sure no one had to hear the words he had heard from his doctors. Therefore, his registry houses thousands of people worldwide of all races and ethnicities to ensure diversity. According to Ackerman, there is only a 25% chance of finding a match in family and 75% chance to find a match in strangers. 

The rest of the lacrosse team continued to be helpful to the registry after meeting on campus. President Joey Zammataro shared they have partnered with them ever since and get their cheeks swabbed each year to see if any others are able to save a life. 

“It was a super easy process,” Zammataro said. “The team was nice, communicative, and taught us about what these swabs could do for others in need of stem cells.”

The only requirement to join the registry is being between the age of 18 to 61 and in good health. There are no side effects after undergoing the short procedure, where blood circulates out from one arm, the stem cells are removed, and back through the other arm.

Gift of Life truly makes it too easy to help someone in the greatest way possible: to save someone’s life,” said LeBlanc.

Isabella Visbal is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or DM on Instagram @isabellavisbal