Saving a stranger’s life: Transplant recipient meets his donor

ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) – An Albuquerque man signed up to see if he’d be a potential bone marrow match to help a friend; instead he ended up saving a complete stranger’s life.

The two men met for the first time this weekend and now they’re hoping their story will help another Albuquerque man make it through his fight.

In December, Jesse Cooler was diagnosed with aplastic anemia. Doctors told him he would need a bone marrow transplant in order to survive.

“My mother and my father and really my whole family don’t allow me to be pessimistic,” Cooler said.

He’s part of the non-profit organization Be The Match. The organization helps patients find donors like John Philpott and Ambros Montoya.

In 2012 Philpott, who lives in Utah, was diagnosed with leukemia, but it didn’t take long for doctors to find him a match.

“All I knew about my donor is that he was a 29 year old male,” Philpott said. “But just knowing that there was somebody who was willing to have their life disrupted to give me a shot at survival, there’s really no way to explain it.”

Philpott also didn’t know his donor lived here in Albuquerque.

“All donor and recipient pairings are kept anonymous for one year post transplant, but on my first year anniversary I was filling out that paperwork as fast as I could because I wanted to personally say ‘thank you’ to the man that saved my life,” Philpott said.

That man is Ambros Montoya. Montoya said if Philpott wouldn’t have reached out, he would have. Now the two are hoping their story will bring “hope” to others like Cooler.

“There’s nothing like hearing the words ‘you have cancer,’ but on the flip side there’s nothing like hearing the words ‘there is a donor for you,’” Philpott said.

Sunday, Be The Match teamed up with ABQ Area Firefighters Random Acts. The two held an event at the Bernalillo County Fire Department on 4th Street to give people the opportunity to sign up to be donors.

For Cooler, it’s the small things in life that are worth fighting for.

“I take after my daughter because she’s happy 100 percent of the time,” he said. “Even with my condition I just try to emulate her and be as happy has I can.”

Then this past week, Cooler received a call about a potential match. He said now he’s just waiting for the donor to make the next step in the process. He also said when it’s his turn, he won’t hesitate to say thank you.

“Just like John and Ambros are doing here,” Cooler said. “We could be a team and further spread the message and get more and more people to donate.” provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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