When Michael Striegold, a Texan who works in real estate, went to a pro-Israel event 10 years ago, he didn’t know how life-changing his decision would be.
While there, he passed a stand run by a cancer patient advocacy group called Gift of Life asking attendees to add their name to a list of possible stem cell donors by providing a swab of saliva.
“I forgot all about it,” Striegold, 38, said. “Then six months later I got a call and they said, ‘You won the lottery.’” The lottery, because finding a non-familial match within the Jewish community has the odds of 1 in 10,000.
Months earlier, on the other side of the globe in Sydney, Australia, Michael Faust, then a 23-year-old tennis player, had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. He was told that even if a match were found, a stem cell transplant had only a 50 percent chance of success.
A full decade later, Striegold flew to Australia where he sat front and center as the guest of honor at Faust’s wedding to Jackie Antico last Thursday.
Here’s how the Sydney Morning Herald described the moving scene: “The father of the groom, Warren Faust, strode across to the bearded guest, specially placed in the front row. With two hands, he grabbed the man by the arm and held his gaze. Then he kissed Texan Michael Striegold, 38, on the cheek – the wedding guest who gave his son a second chance at life.”
In an interview to J-wire, Faust said that nobody in his family was a match for a transplant that could save his life. Beyond that limited group, the only other hope would be someone from his ethnic background, in this case, Eastern European Jewish.
In describing his experience of donating stem cells to a stranger, Striegold said that what kept him going was this thought: “I kept thinking what Michael must be going through. It was nothing.”
“My coworkers thought I was crazy. ‘How could you do something like this for a complete stranger?’” Striegold recounted.
“I don’t know why, but I had a feeling that I was meant to be on that registry,” Striegold told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Faust said, “The fact the Michael feels he’s won the lottery by being a donor, that is the most incredible and humbling thing I’ve ever seen. For me, I’m the one who has been given the gift of life.”
“I’m able to marry the girl of my dreams and if it wasn’t for Michael then I wouldn’t have been given this opportunity,” Faust said. Now, he lives every day as if it were his last.
While the initial process was anonymous with neither knowing the identity of the other, the donor registry Gift of Life brought the two together at an awareness event onstage some two years later in front of 800 people. Both were overcome with emotion.
“It was beyond emotional,” Striegold recalled.
The Australian who founded Gift of Life, Shula Endrey-Walder, told the Sydney Morning Herald, “There was not a dry eye.”
“Now they meet up every year at the Gift of Life gala and spend a week together,” she added.
Though the two are not officially related, Striegold said, “For me, a stranger, to have a second family is overwhelming.”
“I now have another brother,” Faust said.