WeWork CEO Adam Neumann has been calling on employees to get their mouths swabbed for months.
Neumann and Rebekah Paltrow Neumann, his wife and founding partner, have been trying to find a bone marrow match for one of the company’s earliest employees, Valerie Batista. Batista joined WeWork in 2011 as its 15th employee.
At that point, WeWork was a fledgling startup trying to get coworking spaces off the ground. Today, it’s valued at nearly $17 billion. It has 140 coworking communities in 15 countries, and is dabbling in shared housing.
Batista moved through the ranks at WeWork, from an assistant community manager to national sales director. But she’s been on leave since last spring, when she was diagnosed with a bone marrow disease known as severe aplastic anemia.
“She didn’t tell anyone how severe it was,” said Neumann.
Batista, who is 35, is one of roughly 12,000 people each year who need a bone marrow transplant to treat life-threatening diseases, like leukemia or sickle cell anemia. Finding a match can be incredibly difficult; It typically requires ethnic compatibility between donor and patient. Batista is Mexican-American, which makes it even harder for her to find a match.
Neumann said he only realized how dire Batista’s situation was in December, when she reached out to WeWork’s legal counsel for advice on putting together her last will and testament. After two failed matches, Batista said she had resigned herself to dying; she’d even stopped taking her medication. That’s when Neumann ramped up his efforts.
Neumann and cofounder Miguel McKelvey circulated a moving video in December among employees, detailing their mission to find a match for Batista.
“Something snapped in my head when I saw Adam talking,” Batista said this week. “It was like a huge weight came off my shoulders. I thought, ‘I’ll let Adam find the match. And I’ll just worry about getting better.'”
WeWork partnered with Be the Match, the largest and most diverse bone marrow transplant registry in the world, to host seven registration drives in the U.S., Israel and the UK. It plans to host events in Amsterdam and Australia this month.
The Neumanns are personally donating $1 million to Be the Match to help bolster the organization’s efforts, in the hopes of raising awareness and expanding the registry’s reach. It’s a significant donation for the organization, which it said is about 12% of its annual contributions.
In addition to the money, WeWork is partnering with the nonprofit to share talent from its data resources, salesforce and communications team. Be the Match is currently only meeting about half of the demand in the U.S., facilitating about 6,000 bone marrow and cord blood transplants a year from donors around the world.
Be the Match has 19 million potential donors in its database, according to its CEO, Dr. Jeffrey Chell. Many are called years after they’ve swabbed, if at all. There are two types of procedures, one of which is non-surgical.
So far, 1,000 WeWork employees and members have registered their DNA with Be the Match and entered the database as potential matches for others like Batista.
“We need young, healthy, ethnically diverse people to join the registry and together we can save thousands of more lives each year,” said Be the Match CEO Dr. Jeffrey Chell.
Batista met the Neumanns while working as a real estate broker in 2011. She showed them an apartment, which the pair recalls as being too expensive for their budget. But they were convinced that Batista needed to join their startup.
“We have an approach, in general, which is when we see people just doing their work, doing a phenomenal job, we often find those are some of the best people to bring into the company,” said Paltrow Neumann. “They don’t have an agenda, they’re just being authentically good at what they’re doing.”
“[Batista] has a light that she radiates,” Paltrow Neumann said. “It’s tenacity mixed with grace and a smile.”
Batista said that after viewing Neumann and McKelvey’s video in December, she began taking her medicine again. And she’s noticed a mental difference in herself.
“I’m overflowing with gratitude and love. Adam changed my life twice really — but that was the time that I think he really saved it. I had really given up.”
CNNMoney (New York) First published May 18, 2017: 5:33 PM ET