To save a life, bone marrow donor gives all

City College student Laila Umbashi stands with her brother, Mohamed, outside the City College campus. Umbashi donated her bone marrow to help save her brother's life. Umbashi says she would do it again and feels that helping someone outweighs any personal physical pain or suffering. Photo by ||Tamara Knox||

Many can say they would save someone’s life when put in the position, but do they really know?

A City College student knows from experience that she would actually do it.

“I knew it was going to hurt,” Laila Umbashi says. “I think it was well worth it.”

Umbashi, 21, gave up her last month of summer vacation 2010 to give bone marrow to her younger brother. An aspiring teacher, Umbashi is among the small percentage of people who have saved someone’s life.

“I went through with it because I wanted to save a life, not just because it was my brother’s life,” Umbashi says. “I would have done it for anyone.”

Umbashi’s 20-year-old brother, Mohamed, was diagnosed with Severe Combined Immune Deficiency in the summer of 2009, but the surgery did not take place until July 12, 2010, at San Francisco Benioff Medical Center. Umbashi says she was not afraid for herself, but her brother.

“I didn’t want my brother to go through all of it and for it not to work,” Umbashi says.

Donating bone marrow took seven to eight hours, Umbashi says. Her brother, on the other hand, received treatment for six months.

“When the bone marrow was taken I was asleep, but I remember waking up and feeling like someone had taken a sledge hammer to my back and I was in so much pain from it,” Umbashi says.

Even with the knowledge of the time and the pain it took for her to save her brother’s life, she says she would still do it again, that the feeling of helping someone seems to outweigh the pain that it caused.

“Now knowing how it felt and what it did to me,” Umbashi says. “I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Hanan Hasson, Umbashi’s friend of four years, has nothing but great things to say about her.

“Laila is a very giving person,” Hasson says. “Any time she is able to give, she gives generously.”

Other friends describe Umbashi in much the same way.

Leah Younan, Umbashi’s friend of five years, says: “Laila has always tried to stay positive about difficult situations. Laila is the friend that every girl wants to have, but that many aren’t lucky enough to find.”

Umbashi has shown herself to be a friend, sister, and optimistic woman who is there to help. “I am an eternal optimist,” Umbashi says. “I like to look at the good things and disregard the bad.”

Though Umbashi says her brother was finally able to leave the hospital and return home in November 2010, he was not allowed to leave the house until mid-January.

“He was in the hospital for five months,” Umbashi says. “He’s now back in school and is recovering internally more than externally now.”