Bone Marrow Donor Saves Life of Boy With Sickle Cell Anemia

Bone Marrow Donor Saves Life of Boy With Sickle Cell Anemia

Alumnus Ben Trotter signed donor card 20 years ago as an undergraduate at Rutgers

Ben, Braylen and family
Radhy Miranda, his wife Kirstie, with Braylen Mejia and Rutgers alumnus Ben Trotter spending time together in Manhattan after meeting for the first time on Good Morning America Day.
Courtesy: Ben Trotter

“Going through this experience, I could only imagine what the boy was going through living with the disease and undergoing this procedure. I would not want anyone to suffer like that.” 
 – Ben Trotter 

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Robin Lally

It’s a day Rutgers alumnus Ben Trotter will never forget. He was taking his car in for an oil change and doing errands. That’s when he got the call that changed the life of a 9-year-old boy who could have died from the same awful disease that took his mother.

“I remember looking at my phone, not recognizing the number and almost ignoring it,” said Trotter, of Delran, a New Jersey suburb on the outskirts of Philadelphia, who graduated from Rutgers in 1997 with a degree in natural resource management. ”Next thing I know, the woman on the other end of the phone is asking me if I remember signing up for the bone marrow registry in the early 1990s.“

Be The Match, a National Marrow Donor Organization, was pretty sure that Trotter was a match for a Bronx, N.Y., boy who suffered with sickle cell anemia, a painful genetic blood disease that creates abnormally shaped red blood cells that slow blood flow and prevent oxygen from reaching parts of the body, leading to organ damage, debilitating pain and death. He needed a transplant, she said, and asked if Trotter would be willing to undergo some testing.

How could he say no? Trotter had a son close in age. The spontaneous decision he made to sign a donor card when he was a student at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, he thought, could now save a life.

Over the next couple of months, after blood tests indicated that Trotter, a husband and father of two, was indeed a 90 percent match, he underwent tests for genetic disorders, communicable diseases and other possible infections. He filled out forms, had more screenings and answered questions about his health history, his lifestyle, and whether he was ready to make this commitment.

The peripheral blood stem cell donation, which collects stem cells from the blood for bone marrow transplants – a seven hour procedure –  took place in August 2016. Trotter had to go to the hospital four days prior so doctors could inject a drug that would stimulate the increased production of stem cells in his blood.  After the initial treatment in the hospital, and over the next three days, a nurse came to Trotter’s home to give him a daily injection that would ready him for the stem cell retrieval. His wife was videotaping the procedure to share with others.

“On the third day I told my wife, I can’t do this video. I felt that bad. It was like having the flu times 10,” Trotter said.

Still, Trotter understood that the young boy – who he knew absolutely nothing about and would not for at least the next year because of registry rules –  would be in much worse shape. “Going through this experience, I could only imagine what the boy was going through, living with the disease and undergoing this procedure. I would not want anyone to suffer like that.” 

While Trotter was having his stem cells retrieved to make the boy better, the young boy was having all the marrow removed from his body so Trotter’s cells could be injected and free him from the deadly disease.

“I remember the doctor telling me that if I didn’t go through with the donation the boy was going to die,” said Trotter.  “All I wanted was for this transplant to work.”

Watch what the moment was like when Ben Trotter and Braylen Mejia met for the first time on Good Morning America Day

Today, two and a half years later, after that life-changing telephone call, Braylen Mejia, the bone marrow recipient, is back at school, in acting classes and free of debilitating pain that had been part of his everyday life.

Braylen was in the hospital for 52 days after surgery, which took place on the anniversary of his mother’s death from the same disease two years earlier. He went home with his uncle and aunt the day before he turned 10. 

His uncle and guardian, Radhy Miranda, said the first four months after Braylen came home, his immune system was weak. He had to go on a strict diet. People who came into the house needed to wear masks and make sure their hands were washed so Braylen would not get sick.

Ryan and Braylen
Ryan Trotter and Braylen Mejia take time out for lunch after meeting each other for the first time.
Courtesy: Ben Trotter
It took about seven months before the blood-forming cells Braylen received from Trotter were making new healthy blood cells in his body. For Braylen it meant no more blood transfusions, regular trips to the hospital emergency room and living with excruciating pain.

“He is a typical 12-year-old boy,” Miranda said. “Now all I have to do is worry about him spraining his thumb playing video games.”

It wasn’t until this past December that Trotter and Braylen finally met in person. On the set of ABC’s new afternoon show, Good Morning America Day, Miranda, his wife, Kirstie, and Braylen had an emotional introduction with Trotter before millions of television viewers.

“It was such a special day, something I will never forget,” said Trotter. “I think we will be connected throughout our lives.”

Meanwhile, Miranda said he and his family will be forever grateful to Trotter and consider him part of their family. Working with the Icla da Silva Foundation, which recruits over 38,000 new potential bone marrow donors every year, Miranda has become an advocate for others – particularly minorities like his nephew – and helps host bone marrow drives at schools and churches in New York and New Jersey.

He’s doing it in memory of Braylen’s mother, his sister, who died as a result of the disease at 27. He also wants to thank those like Trotter who sign up to become donors, and encourages others to do so.

“Ben is an absolute gem,” said Miranda. “It was so special to meet someone so selfless and willing to help someone he didn’t even know. There is no way to repay Ben for what he has done.”


Media Contact
Robin Lally