LOS ANGELES (AP) — Brandon Levine exchanged handshakes and hugs with nearly two dozen of his blood brothers and sisters Friday, people he had never met but knew had saved his life.
The group's members, ranging in age from 20s to 70s, were among nearly 200 people whose donations to the UCLA Blood and Platelet Center last year kept the Internet executive alive long enough for doctors to put his broken body back together following a motorcycle accident that nearly killed him.
"You guys, what you did was probably one of the most selfless, gracious gifts that you could give to anybody," Levine said, choking up as he stepped to a podium at the university's faculty center to thank those assembled for an annual luncheon honoring blood donors.
"It amazes me," he added, "that a part of you is inside of me and that's why I'm standing here today."
From the assembled college students, some of whom acknowledged they started donating blood mainly to earn free movie tickets, to the veteran physician who still tears up when she recalls Levine grasping her hand as he was headed into surgery and asking her, "Please help me," it was a moving experience.
"I heard those three words in my head over and over for the next eight hours while we were transfusing 100 units of blood into him," said Dr. Barbara Van de Wiele.
In her 32 years at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, the anesthesiologist said, she could never remember giving anyone that much blood. "I think that most of us thought that there was a good chance that he had unsurvivable injuries," she said.
For Tima Dehghani, the 21-year-old biology and physiology student originally attracted to donating blood for movie tickets, it was a thrill to actually meet someone she'd help save.
"It's such a small thing that you can do," she said of the donations she makes all the time now.
Levine is still recovering from his injuries, but he says "as soon as they give me the green light" he's going to become a blood donor too.
The crash April 27 put him in a coma for a month, and when woke he faced months of grueling rehabilitation. His face had been shattered, all of his teeth broken, his lungs, kidneys and liver damaged, his hip fractured and his aorta severed.
"They literally had to rip me open to repair my entire stomach. They took out four feet of intestine," said Levine who, despite that, is irrepressibly upbeat and looks fully recovered now. He does still have some pain throughout his body and numbness in his feet, he said, but is beginning to resume his duties as a partner in the Internet payment company Openbucks.
He lost 50 pounds and looked like a prison-camp survivor when he went home, he said, although one thing he didn't seem to lose was his sense of humor.
He joked about gorging himself on fast food to put those pounds back on and of how doctors replaced a thumb from his left hand, that they had to amputate, with an index finger they transplanted from that same hand.
"The funny thing is when I touch my thumb now it feels like my index finger," he said. "I've got to work on that."
One thing he won't do is ride a motorcycle again. "That hobby's over," he says, laughing.
Levine had just bought the bike for a 40th birthday present to himself and had been too afraid to tell his mother, Betsy Sachs, that he owned one. That was something Sachs, who came out from Baltimore for the UCLA event, reminded him of Friday.
His girlfriend, Leah Horwitz, noted she didn't even want him to ride that Sunday morning. She told him it was early and he should stay home and take it easy.
Just before the crash, he'd sent her a text: "Be home shortly, if I make it home alive."
"I don't do that in texts anymore," he said.