News Blog

How Acts of Selflessness Led a Nurse to Finding His Career Calling

Jake Purnell, RN, is a nurse at the Penn Medicine Institute for Rehabilitation Medicine (Penn Rehab). Purnell is often known by fellow staff members and patients as someone who is caring with his patients and attentive with his work. But many do not even know the true extent of his caring nature — Purnell has donated life-saving bone marrow not once, but twice, which is extremely rare.

Making a Match

Jake Purnell

Growing up, Purnell had never dreamed of having a career as a nurse, until he attended an event to support a high school classmate who had leukemia. Purnell decided to tag along with a friend to the fundraising event and curiosity caused him to stop in front of a Be The Match station. There, Purnell spoke with a nurse who explained how the nonprofit helped patients with leukemia, lymphoma, and other diseases who need a bone marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant through the Be The Match Registry — a listing of potential marrow donors and donated cord blood unit. The nurse discussed the process and the chances of actually becoming a match to someone. The conversation inspired him and Purnell joined the registry with a simple saliva sample.

Purnell soon forgot about the swab, thinking he wouldn’t be contacted. But one year later, he received a phone call from Be The Match telling him they thought he was a potential match for a pediatric patient and asked him to do a series of tests to confirm. One month later, as he was moving into his college housing, a coordinator called him with life-changing news — he matched with the pediatric patient in need of a bone marrow transplant. Before Purnell could respond, the coordinator informed him the patient’s health was quickly declining and if Purnell wanted to proceed with the donation, they needed the transplant to happen in the next few days.

“I was in the middle of unpacking my U-Haul and they told me they needed me now,” Purnell said. “I immediately said yes!”

Within days, Purnell flew down to Washington D.C. and was admitted to a local hospital to start the bone marrow transplant. Although typically two rounds of liquid marrow from the back of the pelvic bone are drawn, as the recipient was so young they only needed to do one round with Purnell.

Purnell admitted that he felt scared as he waited outside the operating room. His parents were unable to go with him on such short notice which caused him to feel more anxious. But a moment with a nurse anesthetist (CRNA) put him at ease.

The CRNA first came over to explain the anesthesia process for Purnell’s surgery. Before leaving the room, the CRNA asked if he needed anything and Purnell asked for a glass of water with his undeniable Philadelphia accent. The CRNA quickly recognized the accent and sensing Purnell’s anxiety, he dove into a conversation. It turned out, they lived about a block away from each other many years ago. The CRNA continued to talk to Purnell about sports and common interests which helped him relax.

Jake Purnell in a hospital bed giving a thumbs up after his surgery

“The nurse anesthetist calmed my nerves and helped me feel like the surgery was going to be a success. In that moment, I saw the impact a nurse can have and it changed everything. I decided then I wanted to be a nurse too and help others,” Purnell said.

After a successful surgery with an easy recovery, Purnell headed back to college and carried on with his life. The Be The Match coordinator informed him that around the one year anniversary, unless the patient specifically requests to contact him, they would give Purnell an update on the recipient’s condition. He received a phone call almost one year later to report that the transplant patient was in remission and doing well. His donation experience solidified for him that he would embark on his goal of becoming a nurse.

“That call made the whole process worth it, I’m glad I was able to make an impact by helping others,” Purnell said.

The Second Donation

In 2020, Purnell fulfilled his dream and was at Penn Rehab as a nurse for two years. And while the chances of being another match felt as common as winning the lottery to him, Purnell received another call from Be The Match. This time, the coordinator informed him that the recipient in need was a woman in her 60s.

“The coordinator had been at Be The Match for 30 years and told me how not once during her career she had experienced someone donating their bone marrow twice,” Purnell said.

Again, he immediately said yes to the donation process but was given more time since the woman was in stable condition. Weeks later, Purnell went back to the same hospital outside of Washington D.C. for the procedure. However this time, as the patient was an adult, they needed to withdraw two rounds of liquid marrow. Afterwards, Purnell experienced some minor complications but recovered at his hotel and went back to work soon after.

Six months later, Purnell was contacted by the coordinator — the woman who received his bone marrow donation wanted to contact him. When they connected during a phone call, he found out she was a nurse practitioner in Colorado who specialized in oncology, specifically bone marrow.

“We bonded over our shared careers, and she was just so unbelievably thankful. She even wrote me a lengthy email after, expressing her gratitude,” Purnell shared.

A Million Times Yes

Jake Purnell sits on the hospital floor petting a dog

Today, Purnell continues his role as a nurse with Penn Rehab and still loves what he does every day. He says Be The Match changed the entire trajectory of his life in the best way possible. He also admits that no matter where he is with his life or how many blood marrow donations he has given, he would never say no.

“The donations were never about me. I did this for those that needed it, and it changed my whole perspective on what is important in life,” Purnell said. “I would donate again a million times more if they asked me.”


If you’re interested in joining the registry for Be The Match, click here for more information.

You Might Also Be Interested In...

About this Blog

This blog is written and produced by Penn Medicine’s Department of Communications. Subscribe to our mailing list to receive an e-mail notification when new content goes live!

Views expressed are those of the author or other attributed individual and do not necessarily represent the official opinion of the related Department(s), University of Pennsylvania Health System (Penn Medicine), or the University of Pennsylvania, unless explicitly stated with the authority to do so.

Health information is provided for educational purposes and should not be used as a source of personal medical advice.

Blog Archives


Author Archives

Share This Page: