Gift of life allows Kansas City man to celebrate 42nd birthday

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Sometimes the greatest gift you receive from a relative isn't in a box on your birthday. The gift came earlier for one Kansas City man.

Ali Tolefree is celebrating his 42nd birthday in the University of Kansas Hospital, but he says that's okay.

"I'm very thankful just to have a birthday and not be as sick as I was six months ago," said Tolefree.

When FOX 4 introduced you to him last summer, he was battling advanced leukemia. He needed a stem cell or marrow transplant to save his life.

"We're just kinda championing the cause. We want to get out and do our first bone marrow drive," Tolefree said then.

But there was no match for him on the registry. His son, UMKC basketball star Martez Harrison, wasn't a good match, and Tolefree has only half-siblings who usually aren't good matches either. But the four were tested, and it turned out one of his half-brothers, Hakim, was a three-quarter match.

"I couldn't believe that. What's funny, my mamma says 'yea, he's the most like you'," said Tolefree.

He got the gift of his brother's stem cells in November. He went home in December, but had to return to the hospital because of infection. His wife, Kim, says it's not uncommon after transplants.

"I'm confident he's gonna pull through. He's a fighter," she said.

Tolefree says he now has two birthdays, January 7th and November 18 which is the day he received the gift of life.

His doctors also considered using umbilical cord blood. There were matches, but they decided his brother was the best option. Women delivering babies at all Saint Luke's Hospitals, Shawnee Mission Medical Center, Overland Park Regional Medical Center and Menorah Medical Center can donate cord blood. For more, go to this link.

For more on marrow donation, go to this link.