ASHLAND, Ore. -- Ashland man Richard Pepper is alive today because of a stem cell transplant. Thursday night, he flew to LA to meet his donor, Jay Matthew of New Jersey, for the very first time.
Pepper was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), an aggressive form of blood cancer.
"I took the diagnosis very calmly. I said 'if it's my time to go, it's my time to go.' But I prayed that I'd be around because I think I still have some good to do on this Earth so I wanted to be here a little longer," Pepper said. "I could either get the treatments or die in 6 weeks. It was a no brainer."
He needed a stem cell transplant but first he needed a donor. And he needed a donor soon.
The Director of Development for Gift of Life Marrow Registry Robyn Malek said donating stem cells has a stigma and has even been dramatized. People are usually concerned that it is an invasive process. She said now it's about as easy as donating blood. If more people are able to join the registry, more recipients can be saved faster. Malek said one in 200 Americans will be diagnosed with a blood cancer. People of color are less likely to find a match in the registry.
"The whole thing with getting the stem cells to the recipient is all about timing," Malek added. "The longer the patient has to search, the longer the patient has to wait for getting the stem cells. It's life-threatening. It's life or death."
Thanks to the organization, Pepper was able to find a perfect match all the way in New Jersey.
"It was something that required very little effort. It had such a big difference and potentially save somebody's life," said donor Jay Matthew.
"It restores your faith in humanity that there are people out there that will take the time to do this knowing that it can help somebody stay alive. It's a special thing," Pepper added.
Thursday marked one year, nine months and 15 days after Pepper got the transplant. It now marks the day he met Matthew for the first time.
"I can't thank him enough," Pepper said. "I'm elated and overjoyed. I've got part of him in me and there's a bond just by that."
Once Pepper hits the two year mark, he'll need to get more immunizations and he'll be able to go outside more and live life a little bit more. He and his wife plan to travel. He'd like to be able to return the favor for other people but he's not sure he can. As for Matthew, he said he'd happily donate again.
"It was so easy and it could have a big impact on someone's life, literally," Matthew added.
"I would tell people if they're ever diagnosed with this disease, don't give up," Pepper added.
If you'd like to figure out how you can join a registry to see if you are somone's match, head here.