A High School Student’s Journey to Donation

Posted April 6th, 2016 by Be The Match and filed in News
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jonah_updatedAt just 18 years old, Jonah has accomplished so much. He’s a math whiz on his high school’s math league, takes college-level math classes, and is a competitive Rubik’s Cube champion. He is also a hero to a patient who needed a marrow transplant.

Jonah grew up in a family touched by life-threatening illness: his older sister, Mariah, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma as a child. Chemotherapy and radiation ultimately put Mariah into remission, but marrow transplantation was discussed as a second option if neither of those methods worked.

Mariah’s illness combined with an altruistic spirit inspired Jonah’s family to help to those in need. Each year, Jonah and his family donate blood and volunteer at blood donation drives. “We are an ‘activist’ type of family,” said Melissa, Jonah’s mother. “We actually knew a child who needed a transplant and passed away from leukemia. When you know someone personally affected, it motivates you to do something.”

It’s no surprise that when Jonah turned 18, he joined the Be The Match Registry®.   A few months later, he was called upon to potentially save the life of a patient who needed a marrow transplant. Jonah was asked to donate peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC – one of the two methods of donation) to a male patient and agreed immediately to move forward.  “I basically went home and said ‘hey mom, I’m donating marrow,’ and that was it,” said Jonah. “Going on to donate was a no-brainer for me.”

Jonah’s full schedule presented challenges when scheduling appointments leading up to donation, which was a concern for both Jonah and his mother, Melissa.  With the help of Be The Match staff, Jonah’s appointments were managed around his schedule. “Scheduling appointments prior to donation was really effortless on our part,” said Melissa.

The first step of Jonah’s PBSC donation was a series of five filgrastim shots. Filgrastim is given to PBSC donors to increase the number of blood-forming cells (also called blood stem cells) in the blood stream. “The filgrastim shots weren’t that bad,” Jonah said. “I had some soreness, but it didn’t get in the way of my classes.”

On the day of Jonah’s donation, his arms were connected to an apheresis machine. Jonah’s blood was removed through a needle in one arm and passed through the machine to collect only the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood was returned to him through a needle in his other arm. This process is called apheresis, and is similar to the process of donating blood plasma.

Jonah’s entire donation took more than six hours, which is typical for most PBSC donations. The hardest part of the donation, according to Jonah, was keeping busy. His mobile phone, laptop and Rubik’s cubes kept boredom at bay as his life-saving marrow was pumped into a small bag attached to the apheresis machine.

Jonah is excited to potentially meet the patient who received his PBSC and thought about him often during his donation. “It’s crazy how this little bag of marrow is going to go into the other guy (patient),” Jonah said. “I really hope the patient isn’t in too much pain, going through the transplant process, and I hope he’s not suffering. I would tell him to just ‘keep on keepin’ on.’” Jonah said.

Now that his donation is complete, Jonah and his family are determined to continue giving back to others. Both Jonah and his mom want to host a marrow drive in their community and Jonah is determined to get his friends to join the registry. “I’ll tell my friends that they should join the registry,” Jonah said. “It’s an important thing to do for someone else.”

You can help patients in need to by encouraging your friends and family to join the registry.

14 Responses to “A High School Student’s Journey to Donation”

  1. Tami Grimslid says:

    I have been on the list for over ten years. I hope that I will be called; I would love to donate.

    I am Oneg and give blood regularly

  2. Kris says:

    Jonah thanks for the story. I have done the PBSC once and would gladly do it again. My son who is currently in the military,just received a request for round two of the testing for a possible match. He is excited about getting to do the additional testing, and hopes he is a match. We, like you, agree that it is a no-brainer any time we can help someone there is not even a thought process that goes into it.

  3. Lee says:

    Good for Jonah and his family! It is wonderful to read about young donors.

    I was so excited last year when I got a call that I might be a possible marrow donor but since there was no follow-up, there must have been a better donor. I will max out age-wise next year, which is a disappointment, so hope there is someone out there who could use my marrow… I have been on the list since 1997 or thereabouts.

    I am O+ and have donated blood since I was 18.

  4. TJChristie says:

    I’m AB+ and have been an available donor since the early 1990s without a call. I notice someone mentioned maxing-out age-wise. I hadn’t heard about this before, and it makes me sad that I might have to be removed from the list due to my age. I’ll be turning 60 in May of this year. I hope someone will need me.

    • DF Morgan says:

      My story is almost identical to yours right down to the blood type and age. I have been an initial match for someone but it never progressed to the next phase. I’m disppointed that I have been on the National Bone Marrow Registry for so long and have not been a match for someone in need.

    • DF Morgan says:

      My story is almost identical to yours right down to the blood type and age. I have been an initial match for someone but it never progressed to the next phase. I’m disappointed that I have been on the National Bone Marrow Registry for so long and have not been a match for someone in need.

  5. Tracy laird says:

    Jonah that’s awesome… I also joined the registry… I am a 60% match for my mother… This is her 2nd courageous battle with AML…my brother is also a 50% match… We are just waiting for the dr to tell us who’s going to be the donor… God bless you and your family for what you are doing.. And best of luck with your donation drive… Many people do not know how easy the process is…

  6. Barb Mindel says:

    Over 25 years ago, someone like Jonas saved my life. Thanks to all of you for joining the registry.

  7. Eileen Bezat says:

    Thank you, Jonah, for your altruistic view of life. You are the hero to the patient and family who will be receiving your stem cells. Bless both you and the patient as you move forward in life. Thank you for your donation.

    Eileen

  8. Darlene Chapman says:

    Johna,

    I would like to thank you so much for what your doing it’s awesome to hear. Your such a good young man. Id like to tell you a story. My son was got AML lekumia when he was 26yrs old did kemio did good. Was I remission for 2 1/2 yrs. He fought he beat it but he got it again in 2009 it was worse this time around. Told us he had to have a bone marrow transplant so he was out on a list. We finally got a match it was perfect. The young man that was the donor cut his Christmassy vacation short so he could come back and donate his marrow for my son. I thank God for that young man. He saved my son’s life and have us more time with my son. But with regrets I lost my son with other complications it hadnithing to do with the bone marrow transplant. He had a heart attact and a infection that got in his blood that shut his orgains down one by one. He passed in Oct. 2010. If he had made it we would have got meet his donor after a year was up but he didn’t and we didn’t get to meet that young man. Wish I had got to meet him and thank home for the awesome job he did for my son. Just wanted to share this with you when I read your story. What you did is so awesome. Hope their is more young men out there that’s willing to help save otherlives. Hope you can get your friends to perdisapate and do what you did. Thank you God bless you and have a blessed day. And you will be rewarded for what you done.

  9. Tina says:

    What a wonderful thing Jonah. I was a blood donor at 17 when a multiple vehicle accident claimed the lives of friends. I continued to give blood and later in life I worked as a nurse at the red cross. I went on the marrow donor list in 1995. I have never been called. In 2007 I was diagnosed with PV. I will need a transplant with in 2 years. I will probably never find a match. I am begging my friends and family to join be the match, not for myself but for the potential life they could save. Tina

  10. Lorraine Munson says:

    Thank you so much for the wonderful gift of life. My husband received the gift nearly four years ago thru Be the Match. Without Be the Match and his donors generous donation my husband would not be here living a full productive life. Thank you and Bless you!

  11. Liz says:

    What a wonderful thing you are doing! My son is 19 and is waiting for his donor. He has leukemia. So glad you were able to save a life!

  12. Annie says:

    I am a senior in high school, just turned 18 a few weeks ago, and registered on my birthday. It was something that I had planned on doing for a very long time, so I did it all on the day I became eligible. Hopefully I will be able to go on to donate to someone in need, as you did. Like you, I try to give back as much as I can, so whether or not I should sign up was never debated. The more I learn about this organization, the more I love being a small part of it.

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