What brings the most joy to Scott Zechiel’s life? Donating platelets.
Yes. Well, that and Chinese food. Specifically, hot and sour soup with Mongolian beef, which he treats himself to right after each donation at City of Hope.
“I always tell everybody, I live for my donation days. I enjoy them so much,” Zechiel said. “It's an act you’re doing to help people, and I absolutely love everyone who works there. These are awesome people.”
The feeling is mutual. His dedication and enthusiasm bring something special to the donor center, and in December 2016 he was invited to be part of the City of Hope Rose Parade float.
“I couldn’t believe they asked me, because they always have all these wonderful people, doctors, nurses and such alongside the float. It was just the ultimate thank you.”
He was amazed at the way the crowds cheered the float as it passed by. “They would be shouting, 'I love you, City of Hope, you saved my life, you saved my mother’s life, or my sister’s,'” he said. One woman came dashing toward the float to embrace the nurse who had cared for her when she was ill.
Helping to save lives is something Zechiel is passionate about. In fact, the 54-year-old software engineer had once considered becoming a doctor. The desire may have originated when he was 16 and had to be raced to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. During the procedure, he lost a lot of blood and needed six units replaced.
“There’s always that knowledge that there were six mystery people out there who had stopped by somewhere and made those donations,” he said. "And I’ve had all this lifetime since to enjoy the results of it.”
One way he wanted to give back was to enroll with the Be the Match registry
for potential bone marrow donors. He tried hard to find a way to contact them, but back then the internet was not quite the resource it is today. Still, he persisted and kept coming up empty.
Then a friend told him that if he donated blood at City of Hope, he could ask to be placed on the registry.
The thing was, I’d donated blood to other institutions before, but this was really a superior experience,” he said. “It was something special. I felt like these people really cared about me and anyone that comes in.”
He’s been donating platelets at City of Hope ever since — commuting by rail from Orange County to Duarte every two weeks. With 298 donations so far, he’s looking forward to 300 and the small party they throw when a donor hits a milestone.
Recently, at a donor appreciation event, Zechiel encountered someone whose life his donation had helped save.
“It’s so nice to see someone you helped who survived, who was just full of life and happy to be there,” he said. “I didn’t tell her, but it was one of those 'warm, fuzzy' moments.”
He hates to miss a donation, so he’s dedicated to saying healthy, taking iron supplements with orange juice and drinking quarts of water on donation day. And if he walks into a room where there’s sniffling and sneezing, he just walks right out again.
As for the Be the Match registry, Zechiel hasn’t yet been called as a bone marrow donor and may never be. And that’s fine.
“I just didn’t want to grow old knowing that I could have potentially helped someone and didn’t,” he said.
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