Parents have a way of making their children feel unique, often telling them that they are special in ways that no one else is. At age 16, I was diagnosed with a rare form of MRKH, not at all a life threatening syndrome but still slightly detrimental to the future I had in mind. At that time, the doctors called me one in a million, due to the rareness of the combination I had been genetically gifted. This affirmed what my parents had told me as a child, that I was special. Fast forward 13 years, and I have now increased my uniqueness to one in ten million. Perhaps that makes me extra-special.
Being a slightly naïve college student in 2003, my roommate convinced me, a highly needle-phobic junior at Central Michigan University, to donate a small amount of blood to join the Be The Match Registry. Be The Match is an organization that connects patients with cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, or other diseases, with a donor match for a life-saving marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant (www.bethematch.org). At that time, I didn’t really grasp the depth of what I was signing up for, but I knew I wanted the option to save someone else. Over the years I often wondered when, if ever, I would be contacted to be a match.
That fateful day arrived in October this year. I received a phone call from MI Blood in Grand Rapids, telling me that I had met the preliminary match qualifications for a patient and they would like to get a number of blood samples to test my blood on a genetic level. Trying to hide my nervousness, I agreed and 3 days later, the needle-phobic 29 year old was being poked for the samples. My case worker gave me literature to read about being a donor, the general items that anyone could access, and said the results would be in sometime in the next 60 days. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait that long. Two weeks later my call came. My test results revealed that I was a high level match for a 5 year old suffering from a rare blood disorder that was affecting his immune system. Though others on the registry might match, I was the highest one. One in ten million. The decision had to be made; was I in or out?
To say that the decision was a hard one would be a lie. I knew in my heart and soul that I had to do this. I couldn’t walk away from this child, or his family, during their time of need. This was their Hail Mary attempt to have more time with their son. I agreed to be a donor years ago, and reaffirmed my position in early November with Be The Match.
That brings us to the present, my waiting game. Though I have confirmed my willingness to donate bone marrow, I am stuck in a holding pattern until the logistics are worked out, hopefully before Christmas arrives. In the last three weeks I have learned a few things about my situation. I know that my patient is international, and not here in the U.S. I have learned that the other donors that they were attempting to match were nowhere near the high level match that I was. I know that the doctors will be extracting actual bone marrow from my pelvis through a surgical procedure and not through a PBSC donation (Peripheral Blood Stem Cell), thus the recovery time and potential for aches and pain will be much higher for me. Though this is not a deterrent for me, it makes me realize the impact that my donation will have all the more.
With the holidays fast approaching, my excitement level for donating is increasing. Imagine granting a Christmas wish of saving a life! How many people can say that in their lifetime? In an attempt to calm myself of this anxiety and raise awareness to the cause, I’ve decided to write about it. As I continue on this journey, I have been inspired by a quote my cousin sent to me; “You have never really lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” My hope is that my story of donating will encourage others to not only join the registry, but to also negate the rumors that people in my generation are selfish. There are young people in the world that want to genuinely help those in need and require nothing in return. I am a prime example and I know that others exist.
For more information on joining the Be The Match Registry, please check out www.bethematch.org.