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The Antelope

Bone marrow donation ‘all-around rewarding’


My experience with Be the Match over summer

By Elliot Gonella
Antelope Staff

During spring of my freshman year, I wandered to a booth promoting an organization called Be the Match. I was mainly drawn to the Pac-Man t-shirt showing the titular character devour a ghost called leukemia. I was under the impression that if I filled out what they wanted, I would get a shirt. One hour and a few throat swabs later, I walked out with membership to the bone marrow registry and with no t-shirt in hand, as those cost twenty dollars.

I had some possible matches over the next two years, but in April, I received a call that would eventually lead to my first successful donation.

The process of donating started with a typical health questionnaire that took place over the phone. In about one week’s time, Be the Match asked for a blood sample, which I provided on campus.

Two weeks later, I got a call from someone who called themselves my donor advocate. This person stated that, based on the blood and my genetics, I was the best candidate. I received a portfolio of information and legal documents including a one-million-dollar life insurance policy, in case I were to die as a result of the procedure. After filling it out, I called my advocate and scheduled my examination.

I underwent the physical examination at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in early May. All lodging, travel and food were reimbursed. My blood was drawn, urine sampled, veins examined, weight and height calculated, along with having completed a much more thorough medical history background questionnaire that made me wrack my brains to remember what procedures I had had. Medical personnel there also decided that I would undergo the PBSC bone marrow procedure, which would draw stem cells from my blood rather than extract the marrow from my hip bones.

Once those plans checked out a week later, I was told I had to take 1600 milligrams of filgrastim, a chemical that stimulates the growth of marrow stem cells a week leading up to the procedure. I received the injection at a hospital 20 minutes away, and I felt the effects immediately. The stem cells are located in your blood stream, and the body reacts to them as a foreign threat. I found out later my blood consisted of almost 58 percent white blood cells, so for the week my body acted as if it was fighting a nasty cold. Joint and muscle aches were common along with fatigue, which made my job as a dishwasher a tad more difficult.

After a three hour process, Gonella views the stem cells he is donating to a leukemia patient.

After five days of injections, my father flew up from Atlanta—another covered expense—and we drove to UNMC for the procedure on May 24. I had one last check over, gave another blood sample and received an injection of the drug. I lay down on a bed with both arms extended as a needle entered the best veins on my arms. The machine would process 12 liters of blood for the procedure to be complete, and then they would see if they had collected enough in the first go or if I would need to come back the next day. The needle in my right arm was at the right depth to collect the stem cells in my blood stream, which would run through the machine that would separate them from the rest of my blood and return it to my other arm.  The whole process took about three hours, and it helped having my dad nearby for conversing.

I thankfully got enough in the first go, and those stem cells are now in someone who is battling leukemia. Since the patient had his or her own marrow destroyed in chemo, this person now has my genetic traits in them as well. The recipient now has my allergies, and in some cases may also have my preferences for food and drink. If he or she also adopted my mannerisms, I think the universe might implode.

It was a very tiring, painful, at times frustrating but all-around rewarding experience. I encourage you to join the registry and learn about it here,  I can only do it twice, but after this experience I am anticipating the chance to have it happen again.

I am still a little sore from not getting that Pac-Man shirt. It really was a cool shirt.

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