Our Heroes

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Our Hero - Sandy

Our Hero - Sandy

Donor Since 2001

I find that most people perceive a bone marrow donation to be a much more complicated procedure involving going under anesthesia and having surgery. This is not the case for most of these procedures. Most procedures are exactly like mine and require little else than a blood test, feeling lethargic and a few minor aches and pains. I feel if more people knew how easy this procedure was, they would willingly give bone marrow to save another life. It was so rewarding to receive a special card from my recipient’s family stating “his transplant day is his new birthday and he is now able to continue being a husband, dad, and grandpa thanks to your bone marrow!”

Here is her story in her own words.

“Over twenty years ago my sister died of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph tissue. Her doctors had considered a bone marrow transplant as a way to treat her cancer. I was tested to see if I was a match for my sister. It turned out that my sister passed before she could have a transplant, but it was at that time I was introduced to the idea of becoming a bone marrow donor.

 

While my sister went through treatment, one nurse was particularly close to my sister. I saw first-hand how instrumental she was in not only my sister’s care, but also her ability to help my sister through the very tough times she faced with cancer. This nurse was an inspiration to me, along with a special aunt that told me many nursing stories. I studied and first earned my Registered Nurse degree, followed by my Bachelor of Science and Nursing, and obtained my national certification in Oncology Nursing that I have maintained for over twenty years.

 

During my nursing career, I have worked with all types of patients – from those in the hospital for general medical issues or surgery to those with cancer. I find that oncology patients are very special. I believe when people are fighting for their lives, they have this incredible eye-opening experience. They quickly realize they have to live their lives to the fullest. Caring for these people is beyond rewarding. It is life affirming as their attitudes toward living life to the fullest are contagious. Every day I go home and thank God that I have another day in my life and I live that day with purpose.

 

In 2001, I signed up with the National Bone Marrow Registry to be a donor. From my years of nursing, I saw day after day, week after week, and month after month, just how many people needed bone marrow to survive. In December 2007, I was finally called to be a donor. I remember the day very clearly. It was around Christmas and I felt like I had won the lottery. I felt blessed to know I was going to be able to help another person with something so important and maybe even help save a life.

 

I remember my schedule was crazy with the holidays, but I went in to give blood so I could be tested to see if I was a complete match. Fortunately, I was a match. They couldn’t tell me much about the recipient obviously, but I did know he was a 50 year-old male with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. This is a cancer that starts inside the soft tissue of the bones and is responsible for helping to form blood cells. Unfortunately, the man became very sick during the holidays, so conditions were not right for my bone donation until February 2008.

 

For the donation, they required a peripheral blood stem cell donation from me. I have traditionally not donated a lot of blood in my life, as I tended to be anemic, so I was slightly nervous about this procedure. However, the thought of saving a life helped to encourage me to push on. The entire process was easier than I anticipated. It was little more than donating blood. The toughest part was it required me to have Neupogen injections in advance. Since I was a nurse, I gave myself these injections. First, it surprised me just how hard it was to inject myself and secondly, it surprised me how quickly my body reacted to the Neupogen. I immediately felt lethargic, achy and quite honestly, like a bus had hit me. However, the minute I was hooked to the machine and my stem cells were extracted, the lethargic feelings were gone. Following the procedure I was anemic, but took iron supplements and came back to normal fairly quickly.

 

I find that most people perceive a bone marrow donation to be a much more complicated procedure involving going under anesthesia and having surgery. This is not the case for most of these procedures. Most procedures are exactly like mine and require little else than a blood test, feeling lethargic and a few minor aches and pains. I feel if more people knew how easy this procedure was, they would willingly give bone marrow to save another life. It was so rewarding to receive a special card from my recipient’s family stating “his transplant day is his new birthday and he is now able to continue being a husband, dad, and grandpa thanks to your bone marrow!”

 

After my donation, I was naturally curious about how the recipient was doing after receiving my bone marrow. The National Bone Marrow Registry tends to not tell the donor much for a year, so I waited the one year and then called to find out how the recipient was doing. When they called back, I was told the recipient was not doing well. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly thereafter. It had been a little over a year from his transplant.

 

So the question I know you are wondering is whether I would do it again? Yes, definitely. The procedure I went through to donate my bone marrow is nothing compared to what cancer patients endure. And although the recipient of my marrow passed, it may have been my marrow that gave him another year with his family and loved ones. I also have seen many recipients go on to live healthy and long lives.

 

Several years later, I had the pleasure of meeting two brothers – one was the donor and the other was the recipient of bone marrow transplant. They both commented that there was nothing like the bond between brothers, except maybe the bond of two people whose bond is built on the gift of life. This comment has stuck with me over the years.

 

My experience spurred my daughters to be donors. My oldest daughter has been donating blood and platelets for some time and even talks about becoming a kidney donor. Imagine that – give away a whole organ to save a life. In comparison, it makes a bone marrow donation seem like a walk in a park.

 

I hope everyone reading this will think about becoming a donor and helping to save a life. It is truly like winning the lottery, only better I imagine.”

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