As told by Jeff, donor and advocate
“Save this girl’s life and I’ll be an advocate to the cause for the rest of mine.” This was the short prayer whispered just before I was anesthetized to harvest my bone marrow that was perfectly matched to a sixteen-year-old girl fighting leukemia. Eight years later, I’m please to share that my recipient, Kim is living life to the fullest with my adopted immune system. 100% engrafted and cancer-free!
Within a few days of the procedure life returned to normal, but my appreciation for it was different. Somewhere out there was a young lady fighting for her life and I knew that her family was asking themselves the same questions that I was. Were my cells good enough? What would happen if they weren’t? At the very least I knew that the procedure would give this family something that they had longed for, which has been confirmed by countless other families fighting a blood cancer. For many a bone marrow transplant can be a cure, but for all it provides hope.
To me, a bone marrow transplant is the perfect fusion of fate, science and miracle. Fate, to know that a compatible stranger chose to join a bone marrow registry; science, to facilitate the process; and miracle, to know that these life generating transplanted cells can alter the course of another person’s mortality. Believing this – I had to get involved further.
I started my advocacy at marrow drives, lending a hand to dismiss the fears about the donation process. As we all benefit from talking to others with firsthand experience; attending these drives helped educate and answer questions of those interested but concerned about the procedure. Several people join the registry, as I did, for someone they know who is in need of a transplant. At these drives, I help folks see the “Pay It Forward” concept. Although you may not be a match for the person you know, you could be for someone else in need, just as another person joining at another drive somewhere out there may be a match for your acquaintance.
I am involved with the CIBMTR (Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research) which is the research program of Be The Match. As a consumer advocate, I’ve participated over the last five years helping to translate information, such as outcomes from a clinical trial into a readable format for the typical lay person to understand. It was an honor to be asked this past year to co-chair this advocacy group.
I’m also very proud of the money raised by co-chairing a local Be The Match Walk+Run event for the past three years. These events bring together survivors, caregivers, patients and donors to celebrate victories, honor those lost and help recruit new potential donors to the registry.
Finally, I take the most pride in my volunteering efforts as a stem cell courier. The transplant process is a logistical orchestra of physicians, scientists, lab techs, collection center personnel and transplant hospital staff all coming together for a patient in need. It is a privilege to hand-carry these coolers containing someone’s “second chance” from their altruistic donor to their intended recipient. A trained volunteer courier is as close as it gets to being Santa Claus.
If you read this chances are you’re already somehow involved with the cause. Mine are but a few of the many ways to help and I encourage all to engage. Maybe it’s writing to congressional members in support of NMDP/Be The Match’s legislative activities; or it’s reaching out to a local recruiter and helping in your community. Whether you’re a caregiver, a long term survivor or a fellow donor – we all have unique experiences that are vital to the next patient in need. As for me, I’ll keep holding up my end of that prayer.