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Campus Celebrity Interview: Anna Pettyjohn ‘12

Anna Pettyjohn, a senior at The College of William and Mary, recently donated her bone marrow last week to a 42-year old man in need of a transplant. Anna’s selfless contribution has certainly earned her the “Campus Celebrity” title.
How did you find out about the Bone Marrow Registry and how did you join the registry?
I found out about the Bone Marrow Registry through my many sisters in Kappa Kappa Gamma who were involved in the William and Mary Bone Marrow Drive. They did a great job of advertising and encouraging people to get a cheek swab or volunteer on Drive Day. It wasn’t until a year ago that I joined the registry; a few of my very close friends were on the steering committee so I decided to go for it and give my own cheek swab!
What was the process like when you were informed you would be a match? Did they call you, email, etc? 
On the most miserable day of my life (the day I took the GRE), I walked out of the testing center to a voicemail on my phone from a number I didn’t know. I listened to the voicemail and it was from a National Bone Marrow Registry representative in Charlotte, NC claiming I was a “possible” match. I called her back and she asked if I would consider continuing the process to see if I was an actual match. I agreed and she set me up with an appointment to do further blood work. After the blood work, I didn’t hear from the National Bone Marrow Registry until late January when I got a letter stating I was the perfect match, however, the recipient was not ready for a transplant at that time. Then, in mid-February, I got another call from a representative in St. Petersburg, FL. She told me that the recipient, a 42-year old male with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, was ready for a transplant and also that it was an international donation. She asked if I would like to continue the process. Again, I said yes.
What were your original thoughts? Were you excited, nervous, etc. 
I was more in shock than anything else. I had only been in the registry for about a year and I already matched someone while my mother who has been in the registry for 15 years has never once been called. I was a little confused. How could my bone marrow match a 42-year old male’s? What did I do right to be called so quickly? Did I just have really awesome marrow? There was definitely some excitement in me, but I was also nervous—I’ve never been the biggest fan of needles.
How did the Registry support you in this process? 
Donating my bone marrow was a long process, but my representative as well as the entire registry itself are really organized and basically did everything for me. They set up my appointments at the Health Center for my physical examination, blood work at various labs, my chest x-ray at Sentara, storing my blood with the American Red Cross for a blood transfusion I would have after surgery, and other odds and ends.  My representative also called me about 2-3 times a week to check in and let me know what to expect at each of my appointments and sent me the necessary documents and forms to continue along with process. She was incredibly helpful and made the entire donation as easy as it could be. She was also extremely encouraging, which helped my apprehensive-self continue pushing through with a positive attitude. The National Bone Marrow Registry also paid for everything from gas my car used to go to all of my doctor’s appointments to the food I ate while in Richmond for my donation. They did a fantastic job supporting me the past few months.
Where was the surgery performed? Were there any side effects of the surgery?
My surgery was performed at VCU’s Medical College of Virginia in Richmond on March 29th.   I underwent the more invasive procedure where they take bone marrow straight from my pelvic bone rather than the more common PBSC (peripheral blood stem cell) donation where you are just hooked up to an IV for a few hours like you are donating blood. The side effects have been bearable, but it was not a painless procedure. My lower back was/is pretty sore from where they took the bone marrow and my body is weak. I’ve been more tired than usual and walked like my 80-year old grandfather for a few days but I should be back to normal in a couple of weeks. The side effects have not been as bad as I expected and I went back to class 3 short days after the surgery (because I’m a dedicated senior and all).
What are your feelings about the whole process now, a week after donation?
This past week has gone by so fast. It feels like I donated my bone marrow years ago. I’m very proud of myself for doing it. It was not an easy task, but it was rejuvenating and inspiring. The experience definitely has humbled me and I’ve learned to appreciate so many things in my life that I used to take for granted. I’ve thought of my recipient every day since I found out I was his perfect and only match, and I hope so much that his body responds well to his new bone marrow. I’m so thankful that I’m able to give him a second chance at life, and I feel like we have become friends even though we have never spoken and I don’t even know his name. Thinking of him and his family as well as the support from my own friends and family have made this such a positive experience for me and I hope my story will encourage others to enter the registry to help another person in need.
Will you ever get to meet the person you donated to?
The National Bone Marrow Registry is pretty strict about anonymity. Most recipients and donors are given the possibility of meeting one another a year after the transplant, as long as they both consent to it.  Since my donation is an international donation, however, my recipient and I have to wait 2 years. I hope that in 2 years if everything goes well with the transplant and his body welcomes the new bone marrow cells he has received, I will be able to get in contact with him if he so wishes.
The Alan Bukzin Memorial Bone Marrow Drive is occurring at the College of William and Mary on Tuesday, April 10, 2012 from 9am – 8pm in the Sadler Center. Please stop by and join the registry with a simple cheek swab. It only takes a short amount of your time to potentially save the life of someone else. 

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