Josh Wildes ’04 stem cell donation inspires students and faculty.
At School Meeting, Math Teacher Josh Wildes ’04 asked students and faculty to close their eyes and picture swimming in the ocean. “While rolling around in the waves, imagine being suddenly pulled under the current and in need of rescuing by a stranger.” He challenged the community to be that stranger — to be a lifesaver.
More than a decade ago, Wildes became a part of the Gift of Life Marrow Registry. “It seemed like a no-brainer. There was no good reason to not get swabbed and join the registry,” says Wildes. “It could give me the opportunity to help someone in dire need.” The Gift of Life houses a registry of potential bone marrow and stem cell donors and facilitates transplants for children and adults suffering from life-threatening illnesses, including leukemia, lymphoma, other cancers, and genetic diseases.
Wildes completely forgot about being on the registry until the start of the 2021-2022 school year when he received a phone call informing him that he was likely a match for a forty-four-year-old man battling acute myeloid leukemia. The man needed stem cells. Wildes did not hesitate. He quickly participated in additional testing to confirm he was a match. Once the match was confirmed, he began preparing his body to make the donation by taking daily injections to promote the production of stem cells. Soon after, he flew to Florida and spent nearly seven hours at the Gift of Life headquarters making his donation. “The shots made my body sore. The donation was not easy. But, I look at it this way, I was uncomfortable for six days, but it is possible that I added another forty years or more to this man’s life,” says Wildes. "How is that not worth it?”
Wildes shared his story to inspire students and faculty ages 18 to 35 to sign up for the Gift of Life Marrow Registry. Joined by Beau Staff ’23, Wildes organized a swabbing event on the Hilltop where more than sixty adult members of the Pomfret community signed up to join the registry. “At the start of the school year, Mr. Wildes told our class he was going to donate his blood stem cells and I was really moved. My best friend’s dad also had a blood transplant. Both their stories inspired me to help sign up my classmates. It takes five minutes to get swabbed,” said Beau. “It’s great to have a sign-up day on campus, and I can’t wait to do it again next year to register the younger students. I want to grow the community of donors.”
Wildes does not know the results of his blood stem cell donation yet but will find out in July. He is hopeful that the patient was able to overcome his cancer. Some patients need a second donation six to nine months after the first. “If called, I would gladly do it again,” says Wildes. “Being a donor on the registry is not hard. You may never be a match, and if you are, you have time to think about it. You give up a few days of your time, but you are helping save someone’s life. What it comes down to is this: Are you going to help someone or not? What kind of person do you want to be?”
Wildes described the man who received his donated blood stem cells as being stuck in the ocean waves. “He was lost. He was getting tired. He was drowning. He needed someone to jump in and pull him back to shore,” says Wildes. “I was lucky enough to be the person to find him.”