Friday, February 01, 2013

why I was willing to have surgery for a stranger

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/erdogan/2431082313/

It happened so long ago I had forgotten all about it.

I didn't recognize the number when my cell phone rang that first week in October. Typically I would ignore the unknown caller. But this time I was curious. No wonder - I was told I had the chance to save a life.

Just after my Mom's death, I attended a benefit at which they were recruiting bone marrow donors. Knowing that minorities have a lower chance of finding a willing donor, I signed up. Then promptly forgot about my commitment.

Until last October.

The voice on the other line said I was a potential match for a little boy with leukemia. She asked if I would undergo further testing to determine if the patient's immune system likened mine. The rest of the conversation is a blur.

I immediately thought about not the child, but his mother. I know I would be devastated if Amara was diagnosed with cancer. And I could only imagine how desperate this mother was trying to find a match. I know I would do anything to save my own child. I guarantee this boy's mother hoped she would be a match. How awful it must have felt to standby so helpless. She must have prayed every day for a miracle.

So I agreed. And a few days later, I was told I was nearly an exact match. I was the miracle.

I was humbled. It goes without saying that not every registry member will be asked to donate. And here I was, given an opportunity to make a difference in someone's life.

Harvesting bone marrow from a donor is outpatient surgery. The bone marrow is drawn from my lower back under general anesthesia. As I prepared for the big day, so did the little boy. Doctors needed to destroy his bone marrow cells with chemotherapy in order for him to receive my healthy stem cells.

Then it happened. I was no longer the miracle.

The patient was responding to chemo. After a second round, doctors felt he was well enough not to undergo a transplant. What incredible news! Yesterday, I was told I was no longer needed for this patient. But because the need is so great, I would remain - with my permission - on the registry. After a rough few months, I didn't need a miracle. And my life is at a place where I see the miracles around me. Now, this child is being blessed with a miracle of his own.

I'd do it all over if I could. I concocted up what I believed my recipient would look like. I imagined him to be dark haired with olive skin. I dreamed about how we may meet one day and how good it would feel to have another child hug me with an indescribable love. If I have an opportunity to be a donor again, I think my recipient wouldn't change.

What would your recipient look like? Over 50,000 people join the registry each month. Could you be that match? Want to help? Check out marrow.org.

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