Donate marrow, save a life

  • Published
  • By Capt. Susan C. Nail
  • 55th Contracting Squadron
Six years ago while donating blood, I was asked if I would like to be on the bone marrow registry. 

"Sure," I said, "why not?" I have been a blood donor for many years. Fast-forward six years, when a piece of mail arrived from the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program, the DOD subset of the National Bone Marrow Registry. The letter stated that I was a preliminary match for a bone marrow transplant. 

I was surprised to receive the news. I had moved several times, married, changed my last name, and still six years later the registry located me. I immediately called the 1-800 number in the letter. 

As a preliminary match, I still needed to see my physician for a health check up and additional laboratory screening. After the lab work came back and my physician approved my candidacy, my donor coordinator made arrangements for my donation. 

I wanted to find out everything I could about the recipient, however, because of privacy rights, the only thing I knew was I was matched with a 2 year-old girl with severe aplastic anemia. 

I packed for my trip to donate with a great deal of anxiety. As I discussed the impending donation with friends and coworkers, they always took the opportunity to let me know how painful the surgery is. I wasn't worried so much about the pain, I was concerned about the recipient. Even though I didn't know her, I was comforted by the hope I would give to another human being. 

My mother flew with me for my bone marrow donation to help with anything I needed after surgery. Anyone who donates bone marrow for the registry is allowed to bring a friend or family member as a caregiver. 

I checked into Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., on July 8 at 6:30 a.m. After I completed the necessary paperwork, I was given an opportunity to ask my surgeon and anesthesiologist some questions. The marrow nurse constantly thanked me for my donation and the doctors helped assure me that the surgery was a safe procedure. 

During the surgery, I was happily oblivious to everything because of the anesthesia. From what I understand, the procedure went well and I had an excellent recovery. I was able to get out of bed and move around only a couple of hours after the operation. Later that afternoon, I started walking the halls of Georgetown University hospital. A bone marrow nurse came by to check on me and declared that I was recovering so well, I might be able to check out of the hospital that day. Woo-hoo, I thought! 

Before I could leave, the Georgetown Hospital staff had to ensure I could move on my own, my blood pressure was stable, and my white and red blood cell counts were normal. They needed to assess all possible post-operation risks. I was allowed to return to my hotel room for the night, and I checked out of the hospital 13 hours after arriving. That night I slept poorly, waking up every couple of hours. 

During the following weeks, sleeping remained difficult, and I woke up sore every morning. 

A couple of months later, however, I resumed my normal activities, including Krav Maga, jogging and weightlifting. 

Since my donation, my registry coordinator has asked if I would continue to be a registered donor, and, if necessary, donate to the same recipient again. I said yes without hesitation. 

I still haven't received an update on the recipient of my marrow. I pray she is doing well and getting stronger every day. 

In the grand scheme of things, my life was uncomfortable for a few weeks, but I hope that I have helped a family for a lifetime. 

I would like to encourage everyone to become a bone marrow donor by contacting the local chapter of the National Bone Marrow Registry through Your gift could forever change a family's life.