Be The Match

This coming Monday is a very special anniversary for me. On October 1, 2008 I donated bone marrow to a complete stranger.

Bone marrow transplants are used to treat certain cancers (like leukemia) or certain blood disorders.  There has been a lot of buzz in the news lately about GMA’s Robin Roberts and her bone marrow transplant to treat her myelodysplastic syndrome.  Roberts was lucky enough that her sister was a match, but many patients fighting illness are not so lucky to find their match in a loving family member.  They must rely on the kindness of strangers.

There are already millions of people on the donor list, and yet there are still patients waiting for someone to save them.  More people need to register and be ready to donate when and if the call comes.  Which is why I am writing this- I want my story to encourage more people to reach out and Be The Match.

I joined the registry in the spring of 2008.  A co-worker (who had battled leukemia) held a donor drive at work and I signed up.  I filled out the forms (similar to those you sign when giving blood), did my cheek swab and that was that.

In August I got the call that I was a potential match, and did I want to proceed.  I was kind of floored, as I had been told that most people spend years on the registry and never get a call.  All I could think of was that this person had been waiting for me and said yes immediately. The next step was to get blood work done to rule out illness and to further determine how much of a match I was.

That determination was near perfect.

The entire process was completely anonymous.  The rules were such that I would most likely never know the patient or get to meet them.   All I knew about the patient was that it was a 24-year-old male with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

I didn’t know where in the world he was, but I did know one thing- he was someone’s son.

Someone had been spending sleepless nights worrying about their kid, had slept in who-knows how many hospital rooms, said millions of prayers asking for a miracle to happen.  I knew that if that were my son, I would want for someone to say, “yes.”  And I did.

From there it was more tests, and lots of paperwork to fill out.  The date was set for the surgery and I was on my way to Boston for the procedure.  I was a bit nervous, and frankly a bit tired of being a pin cushion, but those thoughts quickly dissipated when I thought of what the recipient had gone through, and the road ahead that he would still have to go through.

The procedure to extract the marrow that they needed to do meant I would be under general anesthesia.  They would then insert a needle into the back of my pelvis several times and extract what they needed.  I went home the next day with an aching back and a full heart.  Though the recovery time for most is between 2-14 days, my recovery a bit longer.  When someone asked what it felt like I would say,

“It feels like I fell on my butt skating, but as I was falling someone was hitting me with a 2×4.”

Which was followed by, “And I would do it all over again.”

You know why I would do it again?

Because a month later I found out the recipient had reached engraftment, an important milestone in recovery meaning that he was beginning to make his own healthy blood cells.

A year later I found out that he was in full remission- a mother’s prayers had been answered.

Yes, I would do it again.


*Logo was taken from the Be The Match Site


9 thoughts on “Be The Match

  1. Dena, do you mind sharing some of the details, like who pays for everything, what did you do about work, what if you had complications afterward, logistics-type stuff?

  2. Thank you guys for all the nice comments. Even though I knew what I was doing was something huge, in terms of the impact it would have for another family, I never thought that what I did was special in any way. It was one human helping another… simple as that.

  3. Thank you for this! Around that same time my cousin received a bone marrow donation & transplant that saved his life…wouldn’t it be something?? I hope others are inspired by this & consider registering!

    1. Oh Jen, THAT would be something! Some match agencies allow for connection after a year if it is mutually desirable, but the recipients coordinating agency didn’t allow for it. Nonetheless, I hope your cousin has a LONG and healthy life, and yes, that others consider registering!

  4. I love this story. My only wish is that more matches were being made such as yours. Your message is clear and I hope everyone will go and be added to the registry.

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