Ford Yates, a 19-year-old HPHS graduate, spent his spring break saving a stranger’s life.
It all started when Yates attended a bone marrow drive at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church last summer and became a volunteer to donate, then three months later found out that he was a match for a dying man.
After months of blood work and conference calls with doctors and his family, Yates and his mother set off to Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., to start the procedure.
The week leading up to the surgery was extremely painful for Yates. A donor is hooked up to IVs in both arms. The blood runs through a machine, then back into his veins. Five days before the surgery, doctors administer painful shots in each side of the donor’s stomach that increase the stem-cell count in bone marrow.
“The doctor described it to me as shaking a bottle of champagne… and the surgery is popping the cork,” Yates said. “I felt frail and weak, kind of like an old man. The last day before the procedure, I would take a breath in and my sternum felt like it was going to break in half.”
Yates wasn’t allowed to know anything about the man in need of the transplant except that he was 63 years old and diagnosed with leukemia. One month after the procedure, he found out that the man survived and was released from the hospital.
“I was just relieved,” said Yates. “It’s been awesome to be able to share a story and help his family, but nerve-wracking at the same time.”
Ellen DeGeneres heard about Yates’ donation and invited him to be a guest on The Ellen Show. Little did he know, she was planning to reward his generosity with a $10,000 cash prize. But first he had to earn it by enduring a car ride with an awkward driver.
Yates appreciated DeGeneres’ comical approach to his appearance on the show.
“The whole process of Ellen was so funny and so lighthearted,” Yates said. “I totally didn’t deserve any of it, but it was so fun and random and such a memory for me and my mom.”
“It was totally rewarding,” said Yates. “It was a huge blessing to get the opportunity to show the [man’s] family that love.”
Yates will get the chance to meet the man who received his donation one year from the procedure, in March 2015.