Being the Change

Granting the gift of life

Alumnus overcomes fear of needles and pandemic to donate bone marrow to cancer patient

Grant Bigman (’12) credits his Madison Experience with inspiring him to continue Being the Change beyond his undergraduate involvement.

While at JMU, Bigman had a noteworthy affiliation with the university’s chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi, the international Jewish fraternity. Through this brotherhood, he learned of the Gift of Life Marrow Registry, an organization that champions a cure for blood cancer through cellular therapy.

“I thought, ‘I would want somebody to do this for me.’”
Grant Bigman (’12)

In early 2020, nearly five years after becoming a donor, Bigman received a call from Gift of Life. He was a potential match for a 30-year-old man battling leukemia. He knew right away he wanted to help. “I thought, ‘I would want somebody to do this for me,’” he said. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and his fear of blood, Bigman’s penchant for helping others— instilled in him while at JMU—coupled with his Jewish faith, made deciding to donate easy.

Donating in the time of COVID-19 requires heightened safety protocols. Rather than flying Bigman to their national headquarters in Florida, the organization arranged for him to complete bloodwork near his residence in Blacksburg, Virginia.

A machine drew his blood, harvested the stem cells and channeled the blood back into his body. Following the procedure, a nurse visited daily to administer shots and encourage him to stay hydrated. He praised Gift of Life for remaining communicative throughout the donation process.

Bigman has the option to correspond with the recipient through Gift of Life. Following one year of correspondence, and with permission from both parties, they may reveal their identities. “That was certainly on my mind as I went through the process,” he said, noting he intends to begin corresponding with his recipient soon. 

Bigman is grateful for the opportunity to spread awareness. He wants his story to inspire others to take risks despite any fears they might have. “I got the phone call and thought, ‘I hate needles and I’ve never donated before.’ Then I thought, ‘If I don’t try now, I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to try again.’” 

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