You must be sooooo sick of me blah blah blah-ing all the time, so I thought you would greatly appreciate (I know, right? She never shuts up) hearing from someone else who has had experience with the transplant world. It’s about time for some new blood!
Rex writes from the perspective of a stem cell donor. It’s insanely coincidental that he was determined to be THE match for a patient in need, after having a parent receive a transplant. My math skills would need hours of dusting and polishing if I were to attempt an odds calculation.
If you are on The Registry, or are thinking of registering, you could have a similar experience if you are asked to donate stem cells. Rex highly recommends it, and would look forward to a repeat performance, if he were lucky enough to be asked!
So, without further ado, here’s my wonderful, generous, compassionate son, Rex:
It all started when I signed up to join the Be the Match bone marrow registry at my mom’s bone marrow transplant survival celebration reunion at the City of Hope. I signed up with our friend Jared, who is just finishing his walk across America, raising awareness for Be the Match and getting more potential donors to sign up along the way. For those that don’t know, it takes 5 minutes or less to sign up. We filled out some forms, swabbed our cheeks, and we were on the registry!
It felt great to sign up because I knew I could potentially be the one to save a life, just like my Uncle Leason saved my mom’s. Saving a life is such a heroic act. I didn’t expect to be called upon because there is a 1 in 600 chance to be a match as a donor, but I was ready in case they needed me. Just FOUR months later, I got a letter in the mail and an email saying I was a potential match. At this point, I needed to come in for further testing to see if I was the best match for the patient. I went to City of Hope for a blood test, and waited to hear back. It was starting to set in that I could actually save someone’s life, and I was super excited but also pretty nervous. I really just wanted to know if I was the person they wanted. After a few weeks, I received the phone call. I was the match.
In less than six months, I went from signing up for a registry of over 9 million potential donors to being the ONE match. My family and I were incredibly excited, especially after what we had been through with my mom. I found out that my patient was a 65-year-old man in Italy, and that he was in need of a stem cell transplant. I was pleased to hear that a stem cell collection was a heck of a lot easier than a bone marrow collection. I was told about all of the details involved in the collection, and had a date set for November 18. I needed to come in for a physical to make sure I was healthy and prepared to donate my stem cells. The physical took all day as they did many different body scans and blood tests. Thanks to the gym at USC, my body was in great shape and I was cleared to be the donor. Starting five days prior to the transplant, I had to receive an injection of Neupogen each day. Neupogen makes your body create more stem cells in your blood, so it is easier to extract them during the donation. The side effects include nausea and bone, joint, and muscle pain. They sent a nurse to my house at USC each day to give me the injections leading up to November 18. This was kind of funny because I lived in the most unsanitary frat house at the time. I took Tylenol to help with the side effects, which got pretty annoying by the fifth day, the day of the collection.
My mom picked me up from school and I was off to City of Hope. I got all checked in, and they sat me down in a super comfortable bed and gave me the last dose of Neupogen. Once that kicked in, we were ready to start. Stem cell donations are for the most part painless. I had a needle in each arm, and an IV. They took the blood out of one arm, spun it in a machine to extract the stem cells, and deposited the blood back into the other arm. I remember feeling weird temperature changes in my arms. A bag above started to collect my stem cells. The collection took about six hours, so I’m very thankful my room had a TV and I could watch ESPN. The time flew by and before I knew it, the stem cell bag was full. It was an awesome moment to hold the “bag of life” in my own hands, knowing that it would soon be in a stranger’s body halfway around the world in an attempt to save his life. A courier came to pick up the bag, and jump on a plane to Italy because my patient was preparing for his transplant.
I was very proud of what I had done, but I was nervous of the devastation I would feel if the patient in Italy didn’t make it. Within a couple of days after the transplant, I felt completely normal and was back to my regular routine. It took a little while for it to sink in that I had just been the donor of a life-saving stem cell transplant. After six months had passed, I received an email saying that my patient was alive and doing well. I was SO relieved and happy that my “bag of life” could help my friend in Italy. Italy has strict rules on their transplant patients having correspondence with their donors, but my family and I are going to try and work around that. All of the people I met along the way were so helpful and friendly, especially the people at City of Hope. I would 100% donate again, and again, and again. Be the Match is an extraordinary organization, and everyone that is affiliated with them is simply amazing!