A story of giving: Donate time, marrow to save a life

Courtesy by: mcguire.af.mil

7/29/2009 – JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. — The C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program first contacted me while I was at the Basic Instructor Course down at Sheppard, AFB.

The center contacted me and said I was a potential match for an 18-month-old boy with Beta Thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder that reduces the production of hemoglobin (the part of red blood cells that carry oxygen). It really caught me by surprise and did not remember registering for the DoD Bone Marrow Program five years earlier.

Once I was initially identified, the donor center sent a kit to Sheppard and the lab there took a little blood from me to check for disease and to find out if I was a good match. A “good match,” is where the donor and the recipient match at the genetic level. Because of this requirement, only about 2 percent of registered donors make it far enough to actually have an opportunity to donate. I gave my samples and waited for about three weeks.

I was the best match but the little boy was too sick to receive my donation. I was disappointed because I felt strangely close to him and wanted to give him a chance. Three years later, I received another call. This time it was an adult male withChronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. I was again excited. I thought, “I have a chance to do something amazing and save a life.”

I felt like an old pro. They sent the sample kit to McGuire AFB, where I was stationed this time, and I gave my blood and patiently waited for the results. I received another letter stating that I was again the best match but the recipient was unable to receive my transplant. I was beginning to think that the letter I received was the center’s way of making me feel better.

As it turned out, I was the best match! This time I spoke with a senior coordinator and her tone was much different from the others I had spoken with. It was not that the others were not professional or purposeful; but this new coordinator had an excitement in her voice. She informed me that we had to move quickly before the recipient’s health declined too much more.

As it turned out, when I was first identified, he was in treatment to manage his illness and was in a weakened state. However, the treatment was successful enough to buy him enough time to receive a transplant.

The program does not cost the donor anything. The center pays for hotel, travel and $50 a day for food per person. They flew me to Washington D.C. and put my wife and me in a great hotel. I donated peripheral blood stem cells as opposed to a traditional marrow transplant. PBSC donation requires the donor to take Filgrastim, a medication used to stimulate the donor’s marrow growth. I took this for five days and donated on the fifth day.
The bonus to all of this was that I felt good enough to enjoy the sites of D.C. I saw the doctor each morning for 30 minutes then I had the days and nights to myself. On that fifth day, I went in early to take the medicine and to prep for the donation. It was surprisingly easy and they accommodate you very well. The process, called apheresis, consists of blood being drawn from one arm and spun in a machine. The machine separates the PBSC from the plasma and collects it. Everything else, whole blood etc., returns to you through your other arm. The entire process takes a few hours, and my wife and staff made it easy. I spent one more night in D.C. to recover and went home.

All told, I spent seven nights in D.C. all paid for by the donation center. I waited a couple of months then I asked my coordinator if she had a status of my recipient. I was ecstatic to find out he was released from the hospital and he was in full remission. That was six days before Christmas in 2008.

When I got home later that day, I told my wife the good news. She said, “Now he gets another Christmas with his family and you gave him that chance.” It really occurred to me at that moment of what I did. I gave a little time, was uncomfortable for a couple weeks and the result was he got at least one more Christmas.

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