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Commentary | May 29, 2012

Are you a bone-marrow donor? You could save someone’s life today

By Master Sgt. Shane Faulkwell 1st Maintenance Squadron

In 2004, I had been stationed at Aviano Air Base, Italy, for about a year. One day, while walking into the base exchange, I was approached by an individual standing by one of the many tables that we associate with trying to sell us something or pedal information.

This person was just like you and I, another military member, but the difference was that he had volunteered to try and convince us ("Jane and Joe Public") to sign up to potentially help a Leukemia patient by donating bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells.

I was not opposed to the thought of being a registered donor, and in fact signed up that very day. The process only took 10 minutes to fill out the paperwork, and four swabs of the inside of my mouth for molecular matching of donor to recipient. Later I thought, probably like many people before me, "What are the chances I will ever be "called on" to donate?"

Next thing I knew it was 2008. I was in my office working on some building project updates, and planning to take some leave, when I received an email from some guy I didn't know. It was a strange name along with a strange email address. I thought to myself "this has to be spam." Then I noticed the email was signed and encrypted, so I went ahead and opened it.
What I read next was both exciting and scary at the same time. I'm paraphrasing here, but the email basically stated, "Sgt Faulkwell, you have been identified as a potential donor for a Leukemia patient. Please respond if you are still willing to donate."

Several weeks, and a few vials of blood later, I was identified as the most appropriate donor for my recipient. My trip was organized and paid for by the recipient's insurance. They explained that I could have had a friend or family member come with me, or travel from anywhere else in the world to meet me and stay for the whole donation period. It is definitely not something that someone has to go through alone.

In the end, I was asked to donate stem cells. The process took five days, in which I received two shots every day to boost my blood stem-cell production. Essentially, I was mass producing blood stem cells, which are neither red nor white cells yet. The cells were harvested on the fifth day.

It was a fairly painless process, but is highly dependent on each individual's own body composition, health, etc. Stem-cell harvesting is similar to having a transfusion. They pull your blood out, spin it in a machine to withdrawal the stem cells, and then return your blood to you. There were some minor side effects, but nothing compared to what my recipient must have been going through.

My donation went extremely well, and I found out roughly one year later that my recipient had "graphed" with my stem cells, and that he was doing better. I never received another update, but I hope one day to get the chance to meet the person.

There are too many myths and facts out there for me to get into, but the next time you have someone approach you to become a registered bone-marrow donor, I hope you will take the time to register. You could very well save someone's life!

For more information on the C.W Bill Young Department of Defense Bone Marrow Program, please visit www.dodmarrow.org.