Impact > The Gift of Life: Becoming a Bone Marrow Donor

The Gift of Life: Becoming a Bone Marrow Donor

By Colin Fly Photography by Paul Flessland

Brandon Stenseth decided to become a bone marrow donor because he just wanted to help a friend in need. While not a match for his friend, his only request came seven years later when the day came to give bone marrow. Could he go to Mayo Clinic?

That’s because he works here.

For staff members in Mayo Clinic’s Department of Development, there is immense joy in working with benefactors to learn their motivations and to amplify their aspirations through Mayo Clinic’s strategic vision for the transformation of healthcare.

Brandon is no different. As an executive director of gift planning administration, he connects with people who want to leave estate gifts and other assets that Mayo Clinic could use like land, buildings, and even antique cars and farm equipment.

Mayo Clinic was a calling for Brandon, whose mom, Rochelle, has worked for years in Mayo Clinic Health System as a registered nurse. He’d heard her stories firsthand and thought it would be a great place to start his own career. Following his graduation with a law degree from Marquette University, Brandon was looking for a new job, and his mom made sure to send him openings about legal opportunities in Rochester.

Becoming a bone marrow donor

Around the time he started at Mayo Clinic in 2015, a close friend told Brandon he had leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant. After researching how to become a bone marrow donor, Brandon decided to give a blood sample through what was then known as Be the Match to help his friend.

The results came back, and Brandon and his friend weren’t a match, but Brandon signed up for the national registry anyway. Meanwhile, his friend did match with another recipient and received a transplant.

And that was that for seven years.

Then, one day in August 2022, Brandon got an email from Be the Match, now known as NMDP. A patient with cancer needed a bone marrow transplant, and Brandon looked like a good candidate. More testing over the ensuing weeks determined Brandon was the best fit.

“When I first learned I was a match, the first person I called was my friend. We reconnected over the next few months,” Brandon said. “It was so exciting and meaningful to share with him that I was able to give.”

But his friend had tough news of his own to share. His cancer had returned. While his friend was going through treatment and additional care, he passed away.

“Life is short,” Brandon reflects. “My friend was three years cancer-free, and because someone donated for him, he got three more amazing years with his wife and two little girls.

“He wouldn’t have been able to experience that if someone else hadn’t raise their hand and been willing to participate.”

“Life is short. My friend was three years cancer-free, and because someone donated for him, he got three more amazing years with his wife and two little girls."

— Brandon Stenseth

Beyond the gift

There’s a final wrinkle to Brandon’s story. After a year, recipients can choose to voluntarily share information about themselves to their bone marrow donor. Brandon is interested in learning more about the patient who received his donation.

He wants to share the story with them — about his friend’s family and the memories they made together that otherwise wouldn’t be possible without the donation.  

NMDP, the organization that handles the process, believes Brandon’s recipient is still alive but has been unable to share anything more so far.

So Brandon may never know the full story of what happened. How does he feel about the story of friendship left untold to the person who might understand the most?

“I’m so glad I went through with the donation because at Mayo Clinic, the primary value is the needs of the patient come first,” Brandon says. “We spend every day in the Department of Development helping benefactors decide on how to give in a way that inspires their own philanthropic journeys.

“While I give through our employee giving program, this is another way I could help someone in need.”

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