Ky. man saves stranger's life with stem cell transplant

Louisville, Ky. man saves stranger's life

LOUISVILLE (WHAS11) -- It's hard to believe that up until a few months ago, Eric Gurevich and Ron Dreben were total strangers.

“I got to see him for the first time and I just gave him this big bear hug and he was crying and his wife was there and his 81-year-old mother was there,” Gurevich said.

That bear hug was years in the making but the two were bonded long before as blood brothers.

“Because he received those, he was kind of given a new lease on life,” Gurevich said.

Gurevich lives in Louisville.  He donated his stem cells to Dreben who lives in Washington D.C. in 2014, one, quick decision that changed the lives of two people.  Gurevich remembers the call from the organization Gift of Life like it was yesterday.

“They said that there was a 54-year-old man with MDS and his life was dire and I am the only potential match,” Gurevich said.

Without hesitation, he hopped on a plane from Louisville to D.C. and a week later started the donation process.  Despite some concerns from family members who weren't totally sold on the idea of him undergoing the major medical procedure for a man he didn't even know, Gurevich says his decision was a no-brainer.

“You're a little kid and you dream of being a superhero or helping someone or saving someone's life and you get this call. You get an opportunity. How could you not?” Gurevich said.

He says donating 1.5 billion stem cells is painless, just like the cheek swab he did back in 2008, the reason he was even a possible match for Dreben.

“Didn't think anything of it, got my cheek swabbed and then forgot about it pretty much the next day,” Gurevich said.

That cheek swab was taken on his Birthright trip to Israel, a once in a lifetime opportunity that he never expected to lead to another once in a life time journey.

Gurevich’s stem cell donation saved Dreben's life and for a full year after the transplant, they wondered about one another.  By law, they weren't allowed to know each other's identities but that didn't stop them from exchanging cards and small gifts.

“He sent me a magnet that says 'life is a journey not a destination' and I have it right on my fridge and I think about him just about every day,” Gurevich said.

Finally, after more than a year, the pair met face to face in Miami in November, a moment captured in a picture and forever captured in their hearts.

“When you donate to a stranger you always wonder, you know who is on the other side and I was just so grateful that it was him,” Gurevich said.

Gurevich says he and Dreben text each other often, sending pictures of their families back and forth and they plan to meet up again in the future.

If you're interested in becoming a potential stem cell or bone marrow donor with Gift of Life, you can find more information here: www.giftoflife.org.

There are also two local organizations dedicated to stem cell research and transplants: sharingamericasmarrow.com & nationalstemcellfoundation.org.

© 2017 WHAS-TV


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