David Dreier needed a bone marrow transplant. His brother in Illinois, a perfect match, needed money. So the two reached an agreement, Dreier says.
"If a man puts a gun to your head and says, 'Do what I want and I'll let you live,' you do what he asks," said Dreier, 47, who has battled chronic lymphocytic leukemia for five years.
But the brother, Michael Dreier, didn't keep his end of the bargain, according to a lawsuit filed this week in Hillsborough County Circuit Court. David Dreier says his brother collected $37,500, changed his mind, then stopped taking calls.
The lawsuit says Michael Dreier, 50, ignored demands to return the money. He stands accused of civil theft, breaking a promise and unjust enrichment.
"It is one of the most extreme things I've ever seen," said attorney Randall Reder, who represents David Dreier. "Even asking for money in the first place just sounds horrendous to me. I would like to think I wouldn't give any hesitation to donate my bone marrow to a sibling."
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Michael Dreier lives in Tinley Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. Several attempts by the St. Petersburg Times to reach him for comment were unsuccessful. David Dreier lives in Tampa Palms and has worked as a car salesman at Tampa Honda Land for 20 years.
When doctors diagnosed David with leukemia, he said, three brothers and two sisters volunteered to be tested as potential donors. Siblings provide the best chances for a match. Jack and Michael came back as identical matches for younger brother David.
Brother Mark wasn't a match, but he added his name to a national list of donors in hopes of helping a stranger, David said.
Doctors preferred to use marrow from Michael instead of the older Jack, David said. Besides, the eldest sibling feared for his safety and initially declined to donate.
Initially, Michael declined to donate, David said. Then, in July 2007, Michael had a change of heart. According to David, Michael said he had mounting debt and would donate his marrow if David gave him $30,000 for bills.
"He said, 'If you save my life, I'll save yours,'" David said.
A year later in October 2008, Michael and his wife, Linda, told David they needed another $10,000, the lawsuit states.
"I felt like I was being blackmailed," David told the Times during a phone interview from a Gainesville hospital, where he was receiving outpatient treatment on Friday.
Michael promised to be there when his brother needed him, David said. But Michael did not show up in January when David asked him to meet in Gainesville to speak with a doctor.
"All of a sudden, he wasn't taking my calls," David said.
He and Mark flew to Illinois to confront Michael. David said he threatened to go to the media if his brother didn't help. That didn't sway him.
They haven't spoken since, David said.
In March, 69-year-old Jack became the lifeline his brother needed. He overcame his fears and donated stem cells in March. David received the transplant about a month ago.
"He came through kind of like a hero," David said.
Doctors extracted Jack's bone marrow through a process similar to plasma donation. Before the procedure, he took injections of a drug to move more blood-forming cells out of the marrow and into his bloodstream. The blood was removed through a needle and passed through a machine to separate out the blood-forming cells.
David said doctors froze the cells until he was ready for the transplant.
Things are still touch-and-go. David said there's a 50 percent chance the transplant won't work. Bone marrow from Michael could still help.
"Things are going a little bumpy," he said. "You don't know when you go to sleep at night whether you're going to die."
David has a wife with multiple sclerosis and a son preparing for college.
"That money should have been for them," he said.
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It was unclear Friday how the arrangement between the brothers squares with federal law banning sale of human organs.
Selling body parts outright is neither legal nor moral, said Jay Wolfson, professor of public health and medicine at the University of South Florida.
"These things are usually done out of the goodness of peoples' hearts," Wolfson said.
If a physician learns that someone has paid another person for an organ, that doctor is legally obligated to report it or face sanctions, Wolfson said.
Bill Allen, program director and professor of bioethics at the University of Florida, said no one has a legal duty to make a medical donation.
"If I take money from you and don't do it, I may have to give the money back. But there's no legal reason for me to (donate)," Allen said.
Attorney Reder sent a certified letter to Michael Dreier in July, "strongly" recommending that he seek a competent attorney if he didn't return the money.
"I would want that he just pays back the money he owes, and he never has to talk to me again," David Dreier said. "If I die, it's not right for him to keep the money. I would rather it go to charity."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Kevin Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.