Making an Impact – My Donation Story

Posted November 6th, 2012 by Be The Match and filed in Donor Stories
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“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”

– Kahlil Gibran

Author: Gayle

Date: February 2012

 

My donation story began at a health fair presented by my then employer, El Paso Corporation, in Houston in mid-2007. At that event, in amongst the numerous health-related exhibitors touting state-of-the-art toothbrushes and testing folks for hypertension and glaucoma, was a booth for the donor registry now known as “Be The Match – National Marrow Donor Program”. I was drawn to it by a friendly male volunteer who guided me through a simple questionnaire and an easy process of swabbing the inside of my cheek with six Q-Tips. The man explained to me that from those six swabs my cells would be collected and the information (antigens) from them would be stored in a database for possible matching to potential recipients – recipients with diseases of the blood ranging from sickle cell to leukemia. I distinctly remember thinking to myself at that moment “wouldn’t it be fantastic if I were to match somebody someday.” It must have been premonition. I threw it out into the universe. If I were to ever be called upon to donate because I matched someone in need, I would do so willingly and wholeheartedly. In hindsight, I know I committed to it at that moment.

The Call That Changed My Life

Fast forward four years later to 2011 – I received a phone call that quite literally changed my life. Given that I am a middle-aged, twice-divorced woman with no children, I had begun wondering how I could leave some kind of legacy. How would I make a difference? What has my life meant? Mind you, I have established a career that has surpassed anything I could have ever imagined, and I am blessed to be in a relationship with Frank, the man of my dreams whose love for me is strong and unconditional. My parents and brothers and their families are healthy, happy and beyond wonderful – one and all. Still… in my mind I was beginning to wonder, how can I make an impact?

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I have always been a bit skittish about doctors and hospitals. So when the call came in that day, I remember looking at the caller ID on my office phone and reading the words “Blood Center”. My heart started pumping. What could it be? The woman on the other end of the line with the young-sounding, upbeat voice and positive, pumped-up attitude informed me that I had come up as a potential match in the bone marrow registry. Talk about some heart pounding… mine really was then… how exciting! My donor counselor explained that my six blood antigens had turned up as match for a young woman (18 years old) who was living with a rare but potentially fatal disease . That was all the information she was authorized to give me about the patient / potential recipient – gender, age and disease. She had but one important question for me during that call – “Gayle, knowing what you know now, are you willing to move into the second phase of testing as a potential donor for this patient?” For me, in that moment, it was as if I had won a lottery. Most registry members never get the chance, and here was mine! My answer to her was an emphatic, enthusiastic YES! She explained that should I test out and be a match for this young woman, I would likely be called upon to donate peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) rather than bone marrow. That however would be for the patient’s doctor to determine.

Testing to See if I’m a Match

In the second phase of donor testing I was required to answer an in-depth, confidential, online health questionnaire and then be present a few days later at the blood center for the drawing of more blood samples. These blood samples would be tested on an additional four blood antigen markers. In all, ten blood antigens were checked to see how close of a match I was to the recipient. I learned that the wait for those test results could be up to six weeks for me to know whether or not I would move on to the third phase of donor testing.

Needless to say when, about ten days later, the caller ID on my office phone showed that the blood center was calling again, I was more than a little surprised. My initial thought was, “Oh darn… I’ve been ruled out.” But no… on the other end of the line was the donor program nurse, calling to tell me that I had indeed passed the second phase of testing. I was overwhelmed with a wave of emotion and just erupted into tears. The nurse, having never spoken to me before, was unsure how to interpret my reaction, so when I told her I was joyous and ecstatic she said she wished she had recorded the call. She said that after having passed through the second phase of testing, it is official that I am a donor candidate and I match this recipient.

Testing to See if I’m the BEST Match

The third phase of donor testing was all about me. Was I mentally and physically able to be a donor? My donor program nurse explained that the recipient’s doctor had indicated that he wanted me to undergo a “bone marrow donation” rather than the stem cell procedure (PBSC), because this would be the best choice for this recipient. The nurse emphasized that my decision to move forward from that point would be a commitment – one that may mean life or death for my recipient. Assuming I passed the upcoming physical exam and gained medical approval from the blood center’s medical staff, my recipient would be required to receive a couple of weeks of chemotherapy that would strip her of every bit of her own bone marrow. Without the replacement cells (my bone marrow gift), she would die. WOW… that was powerful! In stark contrast to what the recipient was imminently facing, moving forward for me meant a simple outpatient surgery, general anesthesia and a recovery period. No question about it… I was all in.

Did I mention that doctors and hospitals make me a bit skittish? It is worth noting that, except for a bout of dehydration and pneumonia at age 18 months, I had never been treated in a hospital as a patient nor had I ever been administered general anesthesia. I know that my anxieties had always been more about fear of the unknown but that did not make them any less real. Yet, in my decision to donate, I felt assured and surprisingly calm. I simply kept reminding myself that if my recipient, a gravely ill but incredibly strong young woman who has endured more in her short life than I have or probably ever will, is ready to risk her life, then the least I can do is oblige myself to some minor discomfort and a little time out of my life to try and help save hers.

My Gift – Marrow Donation

The recipient’s doctor requested a bone marrow donation at the start of the holiday season. In the season of thanksgiving and gift giving, what a gift I had been given! The opportunity to share some of myself in order to try and save someone’s life… it is an incredibly powerful feeling. Frank and all of my family, friends and co-workers had questions but were supportive of my decision, and I was excited and in awe of what was transpiring in my life.

The bone marrow donation and the recovery experience were easy, unremarkable and went off without a hitch. Frank was there with me that day and throughout, as was my Mom who came from Oklahoma City for the procedure and to spend a few days with me in recovery. My donor program nurse visited me in the hospital before my procedure and presented me with a little book entitled “Hero”. I was speechless and overwhelmed. I was treated with great care and the utmost respect by my doctor and his nurse– two knowledgeable and wonderful health-care providers. It was a piece of cake.

30-Day Update on My Recipient Sister

In 2012, again sitting at my desk, the phone rang and the caller ID read “Blood Center”. It was my donor program nurse. She was calling to give me a 30-day update on my recipient, and the news was good. My recipient was progressing and tests revealed that she had “engrafted” my cells and was producing my bone marrow. What a miracle! She went on to say that I will not receive another update until the six-month anniversary of my procedure. And, if all goes well, at the one-year mark, I may have an opportunity to meet my recipient face to face.

I pray for that young woman everyday, my recipient sister, and even if I never get to meet her, I am honored and privileged to have had the opportunity to give her a second chance at life.

As for my question about making an impact and leaving a legacy? Well, that’s been answered now.

 

Editor’s Note: Gayle was recently notified that her recipient had passed away. Gayle was deeply saddened by this news, but continues to be a passionate advocate for the donation process and Be The Match.

16 Responses to “Making an Impact – My Donation Story”

  1. Karrie Cook says:

    Dear Gayle,
    You have told a truly amazing story about your journey as a donor. Deciding to donate life is truly one of the most amazing and selfless gifts one can offer to another.
    On Octobet 15th, almost one month ago, my sister in law donated her kidney to our 19 year old daughter. Her decision has offered our daughter the opportunity to move forward in her young life and attain her goals!
    My heart goes out to you! I am very sorry for your loss, but please always remember how you affected another life. You are an angel!

  2. Laura Barber says:

    Gayle –

    What a beautiful story, and thank you for sharing!

    My husband is at Day +45 from a SCT, and we think about his donor all the time. We hope to one day meet him! It was great to read about the process from the donor’s perspective.

    Thanks again for sharing,

    Laura

  3. Lisa says:

    Gayle, Your gift allowed a young woman to live her days with hope, knowing that someone she had never met considered her to be precious and worth a full bone marrow donation. What a beautiful story. May you continue to be blessed with love and good health.

  4. Shelley says:

    Gayle,
    You are truly a hero. I had a stem cell transplant two years ago. It was difficult, and there have been complications, but I am still here. I have been given a second chance, and am thankful for every day I get to be with my loved ones. I have tried to contact my donor (who is overseas) but I haven’t been able to find out anything about her yet. Speaking from the patient’s view…you are awesome!!! Thank you for your most generous gift.

  5. Gary K. Brown says:

    I have a lump in my throat from reading this story. God bless you, Gayle.

  6. Debbie says:

    Gayle, I agree – you are a hero and I am simply overwhelmed at your passion for helping others. I know that everyone who reads this, or better yet those that know you – would truly like to be more like you every day.
    I love this story….thank you for sharing it.

  7. Alison says:

    Gayle, I admire your great courage and strength. I have been registered for a number of years and sometimes wonder how ready I will feel if or when called. I hope and pray to have Your degree of courage for others who may need me. God bless you! Your personal story is quite a help.

  8. Stacy says:

    Gayle,

    What an outstanding story. It touches my heart to know there are still Heroes in this world in which we live. God bless you.

  9. Jay Pruitt says:

    Gayle,
    First of all I am sorry for the final outcome with your recipient. I am also a donor and my recipient passed away twenty six months after my donation. It was like a rug was pulled out from underneath me after thinking things were going well for him. I did my part and you did yours and if you were too look at our population of over 300 million in the U.S. donors such as us only add up to less than 0.1%. So we can be proud of this.

  10. Angie says:

    Gayle,
    Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry for the loss of your recipient sister. I, too, am a donor and have been on the registry for a long, long time. So far I have not been called, but I hope someday I will be a match for someone. My story is similar to yours, twice divorced and no children, wondering about my legacy.
    You have definitely left your mark on the world, because you touched many lives. Your story is out there now, and many people will be able to read about the wonderful gift you gave, not just to the recipient. Sharing your story has the capability to strengthen the resolve of those who are already signed up, and give others the push they needed to make the decision to become a donor themselves.

    I felt uplifted and my resolve strengthened after reading this.
    You are a true hero, Gayle!
    God bless.

  11. Darci says:

    What a wonderful story! I received a call earlier this month that I am a possible match for a Leukemia patient. Further testing is being compelted on my sample now to determine if I am the best match. I am hopeful that I will be and that we will move forward with the donation.

    Your words said exactly how I feel. It is an honor to me to be able to do this for someone. Your story gives me hope.

  12. Jenny De Frates says:

    God Bless you Gayle- I am so touched by your story this morning. I have been on the registery for 15+ years now and often wish for a call so that I could help someone. Your gift and love for someone you didn’t even know is immensely inspirational. God gave you a beautiful heart!

  13. Mary Kahn says:

    Hi Gayle,
    I loved reading your story as I often wonder if I will have the courage to go forth with a donation if called upon to do so. Knowing in my heart that of course I will. If our intentions are good and pure, as yours was, then efforts are never in vain but only add to the positive energy of the universe. Your story gives me courage to do the same if I am called.

  14. Caroline Belvedresi says:

    Gayle… What a wonder thing u did for a 18 yr old girl who was fighting for her life. I am in the registry myself. I would have never even thought of doing it cause u just don’t hear a lot about it. This summer my husband was diagnosed with AML. It was a total shock to us. He is never sick. When we were told he needed a bone morrow transplant,I immediately joined. We have hosted 5 drives already and having 2more in feburary at 2 college campuses. They are having a hard time finding him a match due to a rare antigen in his WBC . He has 3 boys he isfighting for!! Keep spreading the word… It’s just a wonderful mission for everyone in the world..

  15. Diane says:

    Gayle,
    What a touching story – I have been on the donor list for over 30 years – still hoping I have the chance to help someone in need. Inspiring and rewarding to to see what a good feeling you get when you can help someone – no matter how long!

  16. Megan Miller says:

    I am sorry for your loss, I remember the day our family received the devastating news that my sister’s cancer had returned a third time, the stem cell transplant she did using her own, did not work. That is when I was called up to bat, she is my only blood sibling, so our chances of being a match was only 25 %, I had my blood taken, and those weeks of waiting were hair pulling, and we were all blown away, even the nurses that her and I were a 10/10 match. Next step as you know was all the health tests and X-rays, again I came back with flying colors. Next was the neupogen shots, which I am not a fan of, but thanks to modern medicine I was able to give 25 million stem cells. My sister is down at MD Anderson again, the chemo she was on did not work so they had to put her on a harsher chemo. She has this weekend off, then we start the process, I can only hope that my stem cells take to her body and that she does not reject me. The side effects worry me the most. She is my everything!!!! I will share my full story when she is out.

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