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I’m the Match

September 14, 2017
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By Jay Smith

Two years ago, my cousin Ashley passed away after a long battle with Leukemia. Her battle included three bone marrow transplants, each of which extended her life and gave her just a little more time with her toddler twin boys.

I wasn’t a good marrow match for Ashley, but shortly after she passed I saw a “Be The Match” table at one of our FUMC blood drives. I had never heard of it before, but Be The Match maintains a database of DNA which doctors use to find potential bone marrow and stem cell donors for patients with a variety of diseases. I swabbed my cheek to have my DNA entered into their database, knowing the odds of getting a call were pretty slim.

Fast forward two years and I receive a voicemail that I am a potential match for somebody in need of a transplant. Wow. After an additional blood test, I was indeed selected as the best match for a 62-year-old German man with Myelodysplastic syndrome. Without a donation, he had a 15% chance of recovery and survival, but with my donation his chances would improve to as high as 60%. Wow again. I’m 100% in.

Within 3 weeks of getting the voicemail, I was asked to donate Peripheral Blood Stem Cells. I wouldn’t be anesthetized for marrow extraction from my hip bone, although that is asked of some donors. Instead, I was given shots for 5 consecutive days to elevate the stem cells in my bloodstream. These stem cells were then filtered out of my blood during a 7-hour session at Carter Blood Care. Blood was removed from my left arm, centrifuged, then tubed back into my right arm. The collected cells were packed on ice and shipped to Germany, to be given to the patient the next day. 

It was quite easy, except that I wasn’t allowed to stand up for 7 hours. Sort of like an international flight without a vacation at the end. I felt lethargic and flu-like or a couple of days, but a definite walk in the park compared to what my patient has certainly endured. Even easier when I remembered Ashley spending miserable weeks at a time in hospital beds. Hundreds of thousands in medical expenses, even after insurance. Anxious, worried parents, siblings and friends. And in the end, two 3-year-old boys without a mother. A husband without a wife. This tiny sacrifice was a no-brainer for me. I expect anybody who gets that call would do the same, and I feel absolutely blessed that I was called to help.

I don’t have an update on his status yet, but after one year, donors and patients have the opportunity to contact one another. I hope to actually take that international flight and meet my recovered German counterpart. With a nice vacation at the end.

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