Following a seminar held on Nov. 12 in the Meehan School of Business, Professor Emerita of Biology Sheila Barry opened the floor to questions. In compliance with COVID guidelines, attendees were masked throughout the lecture, which focused on Barry’s recent stem cell transplant.

Several audience members took advantage of the opportunity to ask about Barry’s experience with myelofibrosis, a bone marrow cancer that disrupts production of blood cells. Toward the end of the Q&A, a young man raised his hand. He asked whether the retired course instructor, who returned to campus for this special event, planned to meet her stem cell donor.

“He was supposed to come in September,” Barry answered. “Florida [—where her donor lives—] had an uptick in COVID cases. We postponed it. We email each other…A stranger did this for me. He gave me a second chance at life at 73. I’m now 75. I’ve had his cells for two years. We’re getting along very well.”

As Barry finished speaking, the man who asked about her donor whipped off his face mask.

“I’m glad our cells are getting along,” he said.

Shock and awe registered on Barry’s face as she realized the individual before her was Brady Goldstein, 25, the man who helped save her life.

I had no idea. My family did such a good job keeping this secret. I can’t believe it. I’m so overwhelmed.

“I had no idea,” Barry said after the event. “My family did such a good job keeping this secret. I can’t believe it. I’m so overwhelmed.”

Barry’s meeting with Goldstein brought her transplant journey full circle. For two decades, she and her students organized stem cell drives on campus every semester. At least 14 lives have been saved because of matches made between Stonehill community members and transplant patients.

Though Barry is retired, her mission to educate students about this cause lives on through Professors Bronwyn Heather Bleakley and Gregory Maniero. They partnered with Traci Ackerman of the Gift of Life Registry to present on the mechanics of stem cell donation during Barry’s seminar. They also discussed disparities in registry access across ethnic groups. 

“At Gift of Life, our mission is to find a matching donor for everyone that’s in need,” Ackerman said. “We’re not only looking to grow the registry, but also diversify it.” Ackerman shared statistics showing that while 98 percent of white patients are ultimately able to find a matching donor, only 45 percent of Latinx, 40 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander, and 25 percent of Black and multiracial patients will be successfully matched.

Health & Wellness Educator Jessica Greene worked with Ackerman to organize this year’s stem cell drive, which was held in the Roche Dining Commons prior to Barry’s address.

Professor Emerita Sheila Barry and her stem cell donor, Brady Goldstein, embrace as they meet face-to-face for the first time.

Professor Emerita Sheila Barry shares her stem cell donation story.

Helio Sousa Erazo ’24 got tested this year during the Gift of Life drive.

Becoming part of the international stem cell registry is simple. Potential donors complete a cheek swabbing kit. The swabs are sent to a laboratory for tissue typing. That information is then entered into the registry and made accessible to transplant centers so matches can be made.

The need for registered donors is great. Gift of Life’s website notes 70 percent of patients with blood cancers and other disorders do not have family with matching immune system factors. Thus, they must rely on the worldwide registry for a volunteer donor who is a match.

Catherine Keating ’23 got tested after hearing about the Stonehill drive from Bleakley.

“You’re giving someone another shot at life,” she said. “There’s no reason not to do it.”

Unlike Keating, Helio Sousa Erazo ’24 got tested on a whim. He first learned about the drive while on his way to buy lunch in the Commons.

“I have family who have been through health issues, so things like this hit home,” he said. “Whatever I can do to help someone else in need, I have no problem doing it.”

Joining the Registry

If you are 18-40 years old and are interested in donating, visit the link below and a free cheek swab kit will be mailed to you.