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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2019 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


July 15, 2016  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

College student makes life-saving gift to stranger


Ryan Corning during the 8-hour procedure that extracted stem cells for transplantation into a 47-year-old man with leukemia. Ryan Corning during the 8-hour procedure that extracted stem cells for transplantation into a 47-year-old man with leukemia. Almost two years to the day that Ryan Corning swabbed his cheeks to be added to the Gift of Life Marrow Registry, he walked into the John Theurer Cancer Center at the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey and donated stem cells to a complete stranger.

Corning, 20, of Land O’ Lakes, said that when he received the call from Gift of Life, it took a moment to recall he had registered with them at all.

“I remembered I swabbed my cheeks at Camp Coleman. I was a counselor there. The people from Gift of Life came during staff training week,” said the 20-year-old. “It was purely voluntary; I figured why not, if I had the opportunity to save a person’s life.”

Gift of Life Marrow Registry came into existence after Jay Feinberg was diagnosed with leukemia in 1991.

Ryan Corning in recovery Ryan Corning in recovery Feinberg’s friends and family held donor drives all around the world to find a bone marrow match, testing 60,000 over a four-year period. A match was found, and it happened to be the last person tested during the last drive held.

Inspired by his good fortune and the realization of what it took for just one person to find a match, Feinberg decided to make the list official and help others tasked with finding a bone marrow match.

When Corning went in to prepare to donate his stem cells, he was told they were going to a 47-year-old man with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. Though he knew very little about the patient to whom his cells were being donated, Corning said he felt very excited to help.

“I just love helping people,” said the Elon University junior. “I have a lot of empathy for people. I had no hesitation at all.”

His parents, Jim and Sue Ellen Corning, had questions about the procedure, but Corning said they were extremely supportive. They even put together a donor drive at their synagogue, Congregation Beth Am in Tampa, soon after they learned their son had joined the database.

Corning explained the procedure itself is much less invasive than the old way of using a long needle to extract cells directly from a donor’s femur. Using a series of shots, doctors were able to over-produce the amount of stem cells in his system. The excess flowed into his bloodstream, and his medical team was able to extract the cells through transfusion.

He was told that the patient he was donating to needed more cells than usual, so Corning’s procedure lasted close to eight hours, where the typical donation takes between four and six. While he wasn’t able to move much due to the tubes in his arm and wrist, he was able to watch Netflix, use his phone and take short naps.

“I would totally recommend signing up for this registry. It’s a very low-risk, high-reward kind of thing,” he said. “You do have to sit still for a period of time and you might have to deal with a few needles, but beyond that, the side effects are minor and the outcome of potentially saving someone’s life … otherwise that recipient may not find another match. A little discomfort is nothing, when you put it into perspective.”

Currently, the Gift of Life registry contains 250,000 donors and has matched more than 3,000 patients. Particularly among ethnicities, such as Jews or African Americans, the pool of possible donors is smaller, making the testing even more vital.

“It’s genetics and tissue typing,” said Marti Freund, Gift of Life’s director of community engagement. “Jay [Feinberg] is of Ashkenazi European descent and since matching is based on genetics, the drives that were coordinated to find his match were focused on this population. We are a resource for all patients in need and hope to get everyone involved in being part of the cure.”

Freund encouraged anyone between the ages of 18-45, and in general good health, to learn more about becoming a volunteer donor and swab their cheek.

While Corning knows little of the patient to whom he donated his stem cells, after a year Gift of Life offers the opportunity for donor and recipient to meet, something Corning welcomes with open arms.

Corning said that while he was growing up, he wanted to be a doctor. Initially he was a pre-med major, but switched to working toward a double major in economics and applied math. For Corning, Gift of Life allowed him to continue his vision of helping people and hopes that he will be able to be of help for others soon.

For more information about the Gift of Life Marrow Registry, visit or call (800) 962- 7769.

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