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Nick Nonnemacker, left, with Dave Ream (photo courtesy Nick Nonnemacker)

Alum Saves Life Through Stem Cell Donation

Nick Nonnemacker ‘18 matched with a stranger battling cancer in Ohio.

Above: Nick Nonnemacker, left, with Dave Ream (photo courtesy Nick Nonnemacker)

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Nick Nonnemacker ‘18 saved a stranger’s life – and it began with a simple swab of his mouth.

As a freshman, Nonnemacker joined the Christopher Newport chapter of Be the Match, a club on campus affiliated with the national bone marrow and stem cell transplant organization of the same name.

Nonnemacker was a frequent blood donor in high school, so adding his data to a national registry was another easy way to give back.

After a quick swab inside his cheek during a donor drive on campus, he didn’t hear anything back until January 2018. He received an email and a call alerting him that he might be a possible donor for someone. A series of blood tests and doctor’s visits confirmed that he was a match with a patient, a complete stranger.

In March 2018, as Nonnemacker was completing his senior year as an accounting major at Christopher Newport, he underwent the four-hour process of having his blood drawn, his stem cells removed, and the blood returned via a system of IVs. That process has become more common – and is less painful – than the surgical bone marrow transplant option.

According to Be the Match, one in 40 people will get the call for additional testing. One in 430 will be asked to do what Nonnemacker did and donate.

The cells were immediately shipped to Ohio to treat the patient. Nonnemacker later found out the recipient was Dave Ream, a 59-year-old father and grandfather who had been fighting cancer for years.

“I love having the opportunity to give back and impact people even though I may not necessarily always see the end result,” Nonnemacker said. “Just knowing I did impact someone is a great feeling. When you do get to see the results it feels even better, but if I hadn’t, I would still be ecstatic knowing that someone was saved.”

Shortly after the donation procedure, Nonnemacker graduated from Christopher Newport. He works in Richmond as an auditor with the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts.

Per the donation requirements, Nonnemacker and Ream’s initial contact came when they shared letters, sent anonymously. After a year passed, Ream reached out to say he was doing well. They stayed in touch, and Ream and his wife, Linda, traveled to Virginia last year and shared an emotional dinner with Nonnemacker and his family.

“I can’t tell you the number of times he just thanked me,” Nonnemacker said. “It was a surreal feeling when he was thanking me for all this stuff when honestly for comparison I just sat in a chair and got my blood taken. You don’t realize the impact you make from doing something very simple like that.”

The two have stayed in close contact, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens those with compromised immune systems such as Ream. He is approaching the two-year mark of being cancer-free.

As for Nonnemacker, he’s back on the Be the Match registry, hoping to beat the one-in-430 odds of donating again to another stranger.


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