My Bone Marrow Donation Experience: Part One

I have always loved hearing or seeing stories about people selflessly donating parts of themselves to others in need. A kidney, part of a liver, or even bone marrow. I always found the act of donating an organ to be one of the most incredible things a person could do. I have been listed as an organ donor since I got my driver’s license at 16, and I have always planned on donating my body to science after I die. I donate blood when I can, although I often get sent away for silly things like my veins being too small for the needles. Besides that, I never realized there was something I could do, now, to help those in less fortunate health than myself.

Almost a year and a half ago, I was at a charity event with a couple of friends, and there was a table for Be The Match. Curious about what it was, we learned that it was an organization that matches bone marrow donors with cancer patients. They are operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, and they literally save the lives of cancer patients. Being in a philanthropic mood from the event, I decided to join their registry, and all it took was a cheek swab. During the moment, I didn’t even register what kind of an impact I could possibly be making on someone else’s life by signing up; and in all honestly, for a while, I forgot that I had even signed up.

 

Fast forward to a year later, I got a phone call from Be The Match saying that I was a potential match for a leukemia patient. Cue the happy tears and the nervous but excited phone calls to my mom. I couldn’t believe it was actually happening, and that I had the incredible opportunity to help someone. Nothing was immediate though, as I had to do further testing to make sure I was the best possible match, and then wait several months before really getting into the donation process. Still, though, I hoped I was the best match. Throughout this entire process when people have asked me about my motivation for doing this, it seems simple: I am in perfectly good health, so if I have the opportunity to help someone, why shouldn’t I? I have everything to give and almost nothing to lose.

 

I am currently preparing for my donation, and the process has been so eye-opening. I learned that instead of donating my bone marrow, I would be donating peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) because of the less invasive procedures. For bone marrow, the donor undergoes a short surgery that removes the bone marrow directly from the donor’s pelvic bone. PBSC does not require surgery, and instead, the donor (me!) receives an injection of a drug called filgrastim, which simply increases the number of blood-forming cells in their bloodstream, for five days. On the last day, the donor then has the extra blood-forming cells removed from their bloodstream.

My mom and I both had plenty of questions throughout this period of preparation, considering the seriousness of the situation. We both did our research, and she sometimes questioned whether or not I could handle this donation, in terms of fitting it into my already hectic schedule and the emotional impact, too. It has honestly been a powerful experience, but it has also been incredibly humbling. During many of my supplemental tests, I had nurses and administrations people tell me how good of a person I am for saving someone’s life. Saving someone’s life. I cried after that, and I think that was the moment that I was hit with the reality of this donation. It only strengthened my determination to continue.

 

At this point in my donation process, I am waiting to hear from Be The Match about when I can donate. I can’t share too many specific details about myself, including my name, due to the legal reason that my identity must remain anonymous to the patient receiving my donation. I am, however, allowed to write a letter or two to the patient in the meantime, and after a year, we can both share our identities if we choose to. So far, I at least plan on writing the patient a letter, telling them how lucky I feel to be able to help them, and that I will be rooting them on in their recovery as best as I can. To be continued...