Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Power of One

So many of us take life and our health for granted while others are presented with serious challenges.  On July 16, 2008, I had the opportunity to be a Bone Marrow/Stem Cell donor for someone in need.  On this 6th anniversary, here is the story along with a message about how we can all make a difference and be "The Power of One."

Back in October of 2004, there was an urgent Bone Marrow drive to find a match to help Mavis Kelly (math teacher at Valley Middle School in Grand Forks) who was in need of a bone marrow transplant to aid in her battle with cancer.  I (along with 204 other potential donors) willingly went through the process to see if I was a match for Mavis and always wondered if I would be a match for another patient somewhere down the road. Sadly, Mavis passed away in 2005.  Then in 2008, I received a phone call from the National Bone Marrow Registry indicating that I could be a match and they asked for permission to pull my blood sample to do some further testing.  The tests further indicated that I was a match, but they would have to do a blood draw to complete additional testing.  After that testing, they informed me that I was a "perfect match."  I had a phone interview the following evening to learn more about the patient (35 year old female with aplastic anemia) and to confirm if I still wanted to continue the process.  I completed a full physical and was determined that I would be able to donate.  In preparation for the July 16, 2008 bone marrow/stem cell collection in the Twin Cities, I received 5 injections of filgrastim.  The side effects (headache, bone-joint-muscle aches, and fatigue) became increasingly bothersome as the collection date neared, but I often reminded myself that I was in no position to complain compared to the recipient of my stem cells and those who have and are battling cancer.  I felt fortunate to be healthy enough to donate and also knowing that the side effects would eventually fade away.

On the day of the collection (Wed. July 16, 2008), I reported to Memorial Blood Center in St. Paul at 6:00 AM.  After the final injection of filgrastim, I was ready to donate my stem cells.  The process is called apheresis.  It is like giving blood, but I had a needle in each arm.  This impressive machine separated out my stem cells and plasma and returned my RBC, WBC, etc.  I had to remain still for about 7 hours during the collection.  The people from the Blood Center commented on the high quality of my stem cells.  For the following few days, I was very tired, but the side effects faded away.  I did not learn anything more about the recipient, only that my stems cells needed to be on a courier plane within hours, so it could get to the patient to be "transplanted" within in 24 hours.

Some may wonder, why would I do this.  My response is always "Why wouldn't I?"  I did not know the 35 year old female patient, where she lived or anything about her, but I did know that I was an exact match when her family members were not and she was in desperate need of some of my bone marrow/stem cells to hopefully make her immune system healthy again.  I knew that the donation would increase her odds of survival.   Secondly, every one knows a personal cancer story so I donated in memory to those who have lost the battle to cancer, to those who have won the battle, and to those who are currently battling and WILL win.  Finally, I completed the process as my tiny contribution to an important research study that one day may help my family, friends, colleagues, or even myself.  My son Derek benefitted from the cancer research and was able to survive, so I felt lucky to have had the opportunity to give back.

In 2009, I received some wonderful news from the National Marrow Donor Program!  The patient (who received my stem cells/bone marrow in the summer of 2008) is "alive" and "doing very well."  "100% of the donor's [my] stem cells have been successfully engrafted into the patient" and she is "...improving better than expected."

In 2011, I received a letter from the recipient of my stem cells; Marina, a 38 year old female from Russia.  Here is the letter:

Reading that initial letter gave me a chance to reflect on how and why Marina was able to have this opportunity.  So, I re-read an article (below) written about  Dr. Mavis Kelley by Eileen Zygarlicke called "The Power of One."  Through Mavis's battle with cancer, she inspired people to organize a donor registry drive through the "National Marrow Donor Program" which led to people signing up to be tested and added to the donor registry.  Sadly, Mavis passed away, but through the bone marrow drive, I was determined to be a match and had the opportunity to donate stem cells to Marina.  I believe Mavis's spirit and legacy lives on through Marina in Russia.  As the article states; "everyone can make a difference," and all those involved with the donor registry drive should be proud of making a difference in the life of Marina.

What can you do to be the "Power of One?"  How can you create opportunities for your students to be the "Power of One?"  You never know how great even the smallest of efforts can have a wonderful and lasting impact on others.

(To access the article below in a format that is easier to read, click on this link: )

1 comment:

  1. Joel,
    You are The Power of One.
    May God bless you even more.
    Thank you for what you do, Dr. Steve