Sunday October 23, 2016

"Dear Jay. I am the person whose life you saved" — an Alisa Siegel documentary

Stem cell donor Jay Sethna with Manjusha Pawagi, whose life he saved, in New York City.

Stem cell donor Jay Sethna with Manjusha Pawagi, whose life he saved, in New York City. (Alisa Siegel)

Listen 26:10

In April of 2014, Manjusha Pawagi — a Toronto youth and family court judge, writer, and mother of 11-year-old twins — was diagnosed with highly aggressive leukemia.

She had chemotherapy. She had radiation. Nothing worked. She was desperately ill.

Just six weeks after she was diagnosed, she was told that her only hope was a high-risk stem cell transplant.

Manjusha's South Asian origins meant that her chances of finding a matching donor ranged from one in a hundred thousand to one in a million. Friends, family and colleagues rallied. Pleas went out. But it was a painstaking search on the worldwide stem cell registry that produced a breakthrough.

In 2007, Jay Sethna, a 20-year-old from Staten Island, had attended an Indian community gathering in a hotel. He sang, he ate, he mingled. And on his way out, along with all the other young men, he was asked to give a swab — a simple DNA sample for New York's stem cell registry. He agreed.

A Q-tip was rubbed on the inside of his cheek, and off he went. And forgot about it. Until 2 years ago, and a phone call that would change his life.

In the stem cell world — as in adoption — information about both donors and recipients is highly confidential. Only when both parties look for connection can one be be facilitated. As soon as she was able, Manjusha set out to find the anonymous donor who saved her.  

In 2014, Alisa Siegel chronicled Manjusha's search for a donor in "Manjusha's Match." This fall, she travelled to New York City to be present for Manjusha and Jay's first meeting. Her documentary is called, "Manjusha Meets Her Match." 

Click the 'play' button above to hear the documentary.