Tom’s Story: From Marrow Donation to “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”

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I joined the Be The Match RegistrySM in 2000. I’d heard about a local Colorado girl who needed a marrow donor. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it, but her story stuck with me. I researched where I could join the registry, then drove to Pueblo where I joined through Bonfils Blood Center, a recruitment center for Be The Match.

Getting the call

Two years later, I was called as a possible match for a woman, but she developed complications and couldn’t go through transplant. It was an absolute disappointment for me to realize I almost had the chance to help somebody out, but then I couldn’t.

In 2004, I received another call. This time the patient was a 29-year-old wife and mother from Illinois. I went in for further testing and I asked a lot of questions. I knew I was going to go through with the marrow donation –- it would be foolish and selfish not to. But I asked a lot of questions. I wanted to understand the science.

The donation experience
People ask me a lot of questions about how bad bone marrow donation hurt. But you are under anesthesia during the procedure. It hurts some when you are awake, but let me put it this way: I had the procedure on Thursday and was back at work on Monday.

On the day of the donation, I wasn’t worried about pain or discomfort. My one fear was that the doctors would say “You can go home; we won’t be going through with the marrow donation.” I just wanted to give the patient an opportunity to live.

And donating really wasn’t a big deal, in that the effort it took on my part was minimal. Yes, you can say I saved a life, but my part was just a little cog in a machine built by scientists and doctors.

Making contact with Joey
After the one-year waiting period, I learned my recipient’s name: Joey Stott. We talked on the phone and sent a few e-mails. Prior to contact with Joey, the whole experience was very rational. There was a logical progression in every step. When I got to talk to Joey, it all became very emotional.

All I hope for Joey is to have a great life. To have the opportunity to continue to be a wife, a mother, a daughter -– to have more time with her family.

So when I found out ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition was building Joey and her family a new home, I was happy to help with the project. I hope that when the episode airs November 15, more people will know about Be The Match and how easy it is to save a life and keep a family together.

26 Responses to “Tom’s Story: From Marrow Donation to “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition””

  1. Suzanne (Crunchy green Mom) says:

    Amazing story!
    I hope many people find inspiration with this and sign up to be donors! Who knows who’s life you could save!

  2. Lois Hooker says:

    Thank you Tom for your willingness to bless another person. Words will never be enough…

  3. Thankyou says:

    Thank you Tom. You inspire all of us. People such as you make me believe in goodness in all of us.
    God Bless.

  4. Paige Lewis says:

    My son is 28 years old and has been diagnosed with CML. He is about to go through the Bone Marrow Transplant process. It’s because of people like you that my son may also have the chance to survive and go on to live a long, happy life. From all the Mother’s of children with Leukemia … Thank you!

  5. Abigail Alvarado says:

    You have inspired me Tom. Thank you, I am a potential registered donor awaiting to one day be able to also save a life. Abby

  6. Annie says:

    Tom – you are a true Hero …… thank you! My 28 year old son also has CML and is doing well on his medications so far. I hope your story encourages many others to join the registry and become a donor too.
    Here is another mother joining Paige (comment above) in huge and sincere thanks to you, and all donors.
    Annie
    Steven’s mom
    http://livingwithcml.blogspot.com

  7. Cheryl says:

    I am already registered with Be The Match. I hope one day I get the call to be a donor also. Until then, I donate blood every couple of months. It’s a good feeling to know you are helping someone.

  8. Tracy Gardner says:

    Tom amazing story can’t wait to watch. My brother died in October 2007, from AML. Troy had a Bone Marrow transplant that didn’t take & only 1 person in the world search matched & what a blessing even though he didn’t survive. It gave us hope & comfort at the time. June of 2007 we put on a Bone Marrow Drive called “The Battle of Troy” & his site is still up: http://www.battleoftroy.net we haven’t touched the site as it was our link to Troy. We are so grateful to individuals like you who have joined the registry. God Bless You & All the Others who join the registry!
    Tracy Gardner

  9. Tracy Gardner says:

    We also have a good friend who joined the registry at the Bone Marrow Drive we did honoring my brother, Troy Schultz in June of 2007. Our friend just started blood work yesterday to see if she is a match for this infant child. We are praying and Lindsey is very excited hoping she will be chosen. What a GIFT!
    Tracy Gardner

  10. Juan Vilar says:

    Dear Tom,
    I will watch the show on Sunday Good Bless You!
    I was diagnosed with CMML a rare type of Leukemia, exactly a year ago and was told that I only had two years to live but that I had 90% chances of getting cured with a stem cell transplant. Found a donor overseas through the Bone Marrow Donors Program and now I am cured and feeling great thanks to someone like you. My whole family and lots of my friends are now registered to be able to donate.

  11. Jenny says:

    I registered a couple of months ago with Be the Match,and I am looking forward to help save someone’s life.

  12. Sandra (Texas) says:

    Great job Tom, you are truely a HERO. And there are not enough around these days. I joined two years ago when I started work at the post office. They came and gave a presentation and I signed up right away.
    Everyone counts, please make a difference!

  13. Tom Wilhelm says:

    Thank you everyone for sharing, and for such kind comments! Although what I did was special, it certainly wasn’t unique. So many people have come together to make these types of miracles possible, including doctors, nurses, those that assist in matching donor and patients, and all those behind the scenes in Be The Match – without them, there would have been no story.
    Again, thank you everyone for the posts, and I can’t wait to watch the show with all of you! What fun!
    – Tom Wilhelm

  14. Sue Leonard says:

    Tom, I’m glad to know that there’s people in the world like you, what a unselfish act. I too am a registered donor and was inspired by Joey Stott’s story. I have known her family for many years. I remember when I heard the news and was not yet registered. I wanted to help. It wound up not to be Joey but hopefully I will be called upon as someone else’s match. She fully deserves the Extreme Makeover Home Edition. GO JOEY! and THANK YOU TOM! Sue Leonard-Illinois

  15. Kay Driver says:

    I have always been a firm believer in organ/tissue donation. When my children were small, I asked the oldest, he was about 6 or 7, what he thought. He acted like it wasn’t a big deal and calmly said, “I don’t need it.” When my husband died in March 2007, I gave permission to use whatever he had that could be salvaged and didn’t think twice. I have in the last few months agreed to be a bone marrow donor. I may never get a call or it might be tomorrow. Who knows? But I have AB+ blood and I have been vaccinated for Hep B through my job. I would not think twice if I were called. I would simply ask how soon I had to be wherever they were doing the donation.

  16. Xiomara says:

    Awesome Tom what a great thing to do may God bless you always. My daugther was diagnosed with AML in may of 2007 and she received a bone marrow transplant in jan 2008, unfortunanly she past in april 2008 due to complications at only 7yrs old but I always be thankful for such generous gift and I joined the registry BE THE MATCH and I hope one day I can help somebody just like you did ! you are a Hero thanks.

  17. MIKE says:

    GOOD JOB TOM, IM GOING THROUGH THE PROCESS RIGHT NOW, THEY TOOK MORE OF MY BLOOD FOR MORE TESTING I REALLY HOPE I MATCH

  18. Karen Chacon says:

    Thanks Tom for sharing of yourself. I am currently waiting for a match for a donor, and will not live unless one is found through BMT as my only sibling only matched me by 50%, thus is not a good match for me.
    A number of my family and friends have registered so I appreciate everyone’s help, even if it doesn’t help me, I pray they will be able to help someone else.
    I did watch the show last night, and it did have a special meaning for me.
    Thanks so much for your support

  19. Tiene Shattuck says:

    I think it is an amazing thing to become a registered donor. I have wanted to do it but never really knew how to go about it. The only program I had found charged you a fee to join the donor list and I thought it seemed like a scam. But after watching the episode I went to the Be The Match website and discovered not only can I be a bone marrow donor, but my unborn daughter can donate her cordblood on the day of her birth. We were planning on having it stored privately, but after learning it can be donated to a public bank we will be doing that. How amazing to be able to offer a life with the giving of life. God Bless

  20. Micki says:

    I recently found out that I am a match, and will be donating stem cells. I have already had my physical, blood work, EKG, Chest Xray…starting the filgrastim injections on Christmas Eve. I never gave it a 2nd thought when they asked me to donate. My brother has CML and is doing great on medication…it means alot to me to be able to help someone fight the same battle that our family has been going through for 10 years…Keep this patient in your prayers. This will be the best Christmas ever for me, knowing that I can give the gift of life. God Bless.

  21. Barbara Lasky says:

    Thank you so much for donating; I wish more people would be so selfless. I worked on the Extreme Makeover Home Edition Tucson in January 2009 and give regular blood donations in Lizzie Bell’s name and also signed up with #BeTheMatch.
    Just imagine how many lives could be saved if more people signed up on the Registry and also gave blood regularly.
    Thanks again Tom, you are an inspiration.

  22. Jamie Cooper says:

    My cousin just passed away from complications with her aplasic anemia. She was only 17. I am currently preganant and I am looking into donating the cord blood from my baby. My aunt and our family are having a blood drive to help replentish the blood bank.We are looking into having a marrow drive too. I am wanting to help make my community more aware of the donation of cord blood and how it can save lives.

  23. medieval dresses says:

    This story is touching. I salute you man. I admire your courage on facing the pain just to help another person. I many will be inspired by your story and do thing you do even in a little way. 🙂 i wish you all the best. God Bless!

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    I’m hoping that we’ll end up with a slew of prototyped ideas and a bunch of happy people. I’m sure there’ll be a lot more hard work until we can turn those embryonic proofs of concept into living

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