Meet Waliya Lari

Every morning the country's best known television journalists were presenting my work to millions of viewers. When I wasn't working, I was out enjoying the thrills of life a 23-year-old in New York City: fun friends, great food and amazing experiences. Sure, I was teetering on the edge of poverty; living in studio apartment that was next to a cemetery, in the flightpath of LaGuardia airport and the size of my parents' family room; and was still adjusting to the grit and grime of this urban jungle; but I was making it on my own and you know what they say... if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

It was in the middle of this seemingly perfect existence that notification arrived in the mail. The oversized powder blue envelope was nestled in the mound of junk mail I pulled from my mailbox that day. I could tell by the handwritten address that this wasn't just another unsolicited mailer. On the front, a yellow sticker with the National Marrow Donor Program logo declared "You're a Marrow Match". Inside was a pile of pamphlets about the program and a handwritten note that stated "This is an urgent blood test request for a 25-year-old female with leukemia". I had joined the registry about 8 years earlier. It was an afterthought of a blood donation at the annual Islamic Society of North America conference where the NMDP was recruiting minorities. After the lab tech swabbed my cheek, I never thought about it again until that moment in my tiny Queens apartment.

The next morning I called to set up the blood test and soon after they called to tell me I was a perfect match for a 25-year-old South Asian female in the United Kingdom with leukemia. It was now up to me to decide whether to donate. In all honestly, I didn't want to do it

Donating bone marrow to a stranger meant going through a painful procedure or doing something that at that time was still considered experimental. Both seemed a little scary to me. It would also require recovery time which meant days away from the job I couldn't get enough of and time away from the endless excitement of New York City. This would interrupt the life I was living, which was one I'd wanted for so long. Why would I want to make these sacrifices for some random girl on the other side of the planet?

But then I realized she wasn't just some girl, she was a girl just like me. We were nearly the same age, the same gender, the same ethnicity; so why shouldn't she get to enjoy life the same way I was getting to enjoy it? The only difference between us was that cancer chose her and spared me. Then I thought what of it was the other way around? What if I had leukemia and she was the key to saving my life, how would I feel if she chose not to donate? That's when I knew I couldn't say no. My bone marrow would regenerate and I'd still have a lifetime ahead of me of incredible days at work and unforgettable moments in New York City, but this girl may never get anther chance at life like this one.

Most days now I don't even think about my bone marrow donation, but every year, on the day I donated, I get a phone call from the NMDP to check in on my health and I always get a holiday card from the center where I had the procedure. It's those two days of the year I'm reminded of all my blessings, including a lifetime of good health (so far) and the ability to help someone who hasn't had that. International privacy laws prevent the NMDP from giving me too many details on the girl who received my marrow. All I know is that she lived and I imagine she's out there somewhere living her dream.

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