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September 10, 2005

Generosity That Goes Clear to the Marrow

Along with the $100 in donations that came in on Thursday was a 5" x 8" postcard reminding me of a commitment that I made more than a decade ago. Although I've never had to follow through on my commitment (one time I came very close...more in a minute), I still remain committed to it today.

It was from the National Marrow Donor Program, thanking me for being a committed donor, and reminding me that, "As a volunteer marrow donor, you offer a patient a second chance at life. If you ever match a patient in need of a transplant, we will need to get in touch with you right away." I remember that a few years ago they used to send eight-page full-color glossies that had articles on successful bone marrow transplants. I guess now with rising costs and privacy laws, that become impractical.

But anyway, a little bit about the NMDP. In the past, bone marrow transplants were effectively limited to those who were lucky enough to have matches in their families. The NMDP changes all that. Started back in 1987, the NMDP has facilitated more than 20,000 bone marrow transplants for patients with no matches in their immediate families. They maintain a database of the tissue types of more than 5.5 million people, and manage the whole matching process from patient request to donor identification all the way to post-transplant.

I first joined the registry in 1994 at Lewis & Clark, when I was a member of a college service club. We were in charge of the quarterly blood drives on campus (that was also where I first gave blood, which led to several gallons more...more on that in another entry). At one blood drive, our student government offered to pay the tissue typing fee for up to 100 donors, so I was one of those that took advantage of it. It was easy...just a few extra vials of blood on top of my one-pint donation. No muss, no fuss.

And other than receiving the full-color glossies once a year, I didn't think much about it.

Until July 24, 2001, when the Red Cross blood bank in Portland called me, saying my tissue type was a potential match for a young child (an infant girl, I would later find out). My records were transferred from Oregon to the Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry at St. Francis Medical Center, and I was taken care of by the staff over there. They answered my questions, and drew a few more additional vials of blood to be sent to be tested.

In the end, however, three months later I found out that my tissue was not as good a match as they had hoped, and the process ended there for me.

Later, I'll update this entry with some entries from my old journal, to give you an idea of what was going through my mind then. It's interesting for me to re-read and re-experience how I felt. In the entry in which I worked through the rejection, I did say, "Maybe next year I'll join Team in Training." Well, "next year" was four years in coming. And, now that I think about it, I think I did attend an information meeting back in 2002, but was scared off by the fundraising commitment. But here I am in 2005, raising money and training for the Team.

That's probably why receiving that postcard in the mail held special significance this year. One day I'll probably be called again, and perhaps that time I'll find my way to the operating table. But for now, training with TNT will do.

Posted by Keith at September 10, 2005 09:52 AM

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