|The journey that brought me to donate bone marrow in hopes of saving a stranger’s life began about five years ago.
A family in La Quinta, Calif., near where I live and work, was going through something every parent fears. Their infant daughter was suffering from a brain tumor. I have two young daughters, so the family’s story hit particularly close to home. Our community rallied behind this little girl, raising funds to help out. I’m happy to report that her treatment was successful and she is doing well.
Inspired by the plight of kids facing cancer, I wanted to know what else I could do to help. At the suggestion of a friend, I sent out for a kit to volunteer for the national Be The Match bone marrow registry. It was easy: I filled out a form, swabbed my cheek and got onto the registry.
Last fall, I received a call from City of Hope’s National Marrow Donor Program office. They told me I was a possible match for a patient. I took some blood tests, and about four weeks later, I learned that I was a match.
When somebody phones you and says, “Hey, guess what? You can save someone’s life,” it’s more real than saying, “Oh, I’m going to get on the registry.” It’s pretty powerful.
A lot of things went into my decision to donate.
I teach at a Catholic school, and faith is very important in our household. If I didn’t help when I could, how would I explain that choice to my children and my students?
Because the donation process is anonymous, all I knew about the patient was that he was a 67-year-old man. My father was around that age when he died of prostate cancer almost 13 years ago, and my mother is a breast cancer survivor.
I wondered about the patient’s life. Did he have children who were counting on him? Did he have grandchildren? What was he going to miss out on? I thought of my mom, who had lost the love of her life, and it was easy to imagine how the patient’s loved ones might feel.
I also did my due diligence. I wanted to make sure the donation procedure wouldn’t do me any harm, for my children’s sake. Some friends of mine who are doctors gave me the OK, and of course I said yes.
I donated peripheral blood stem cells. For five days before, I had to take injections of a drug called filgrastim that basically feeds stem cells from your bone marrow into your blood. Then I went to City of Hope, and for about eight hours I was hooked up to a machine that removed those stem cells from my blood and put the rest back in.
The process involved some discomfort. The filgrastim made me feel achy, like I had the flu. During the donation, I had to keep my arms straight the whole time, so I watched TV and slept.
People say, “I can’t believe you did that.” But you have to put it all into perspective. This patient was in the hospital for who knows how long. He had to go through chemotherapy. He had his entire immune system knocked out. And I had five days of feeling yucky. It doesn’t even compare.
Not too long ago, I received an update that the patient was out of the hospital and recovering nicely. This news filled my heart, to think that the transplant may have worked.
I can say that donating bone marrow was worth it. In fact, I can’t imagine not doing it. I see the whole experience as God calling me to do what I was supposed to do. I’m glad that I could be part of saving someone’s life. It’s pretty much the ultimate gift.
For more information about registering to be a bone marrow donor, call 626-256-4673, ext. 68483, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.cityofhope.org/blooddonorcenter and click the National Marrow Donor Program link.