Bone Marrow donor drive March 1 <br> Painless process registers potential lifesavers

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Heather Heiney
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
A painless process could place you in a position to save someone's life.

From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 1, Keesler is holding a C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Center registration drive at the base exchange pharmacy. The entire process takes only a few minutes and involves filling out a registration form and taking a swab of the inside of your cheek.

"It's easy to sign up and if you get called, it could be one of the most unselfish things you could do in your life," Master Sgt.Michael Rutledge, 333rd Training Squadron, said.

"They fill out their form, do their swab and I'll seal it up and mail it off," said Lisa Lynn, Keesler Blood Donor Center donor recruiter.

Eligible donors include active-duty military members and their dependents, DOD civilians, Coast Guard, National Guard and Reservists between the ages of 18 and 60 and in good health.

"The potential exists to save someone's life," said Master Sgt. Shane Sullivan, 81st Training Wing equal opportunity office.

If a positive match is found, the donor and a companion will travel to Georgetown University Hospital, Washington, D.C.; the University of Maryland Greenbaum Medical Center, Baltimore; or Fairfax Pathology Associates in Fairfax, Va., to make the stem cell or bone marrow donation.

According to the program's website,, "The primary objectives of this program are the development and application of this distinctive life-saving technology toward the military medical application for rescue of casualties with marrow damage resulting from radiation or certain chemical warfare agents containing mustard."

There are two ways for stem cells to be collected --through bone marrow extracted from the pelvic bone or peripheral blood stem cell collection. Of the two, most people go through PBSC donation which involves receiving hormone injections for five days that increase stem cell production before stem cells are extracted on the fifth day. The process usually takes between three and five hours and blood is drawn through tubes in one arm, filtered through a machine that extracts the stem cells and then put back into the body through the other arm.

Donors even have the opportunity to explore Washington, D.C., the first few days because their only obligation is to report in the morning to receive a shot.

For many people, the bone marrow registry is their last chance of survival because by the time doctors consult the registry, they have tried everything else including testing family members and friends of the recipient for a match.

In order to protect the privacy of both the recipient and donor as well as prevent emotional obligation, the donor only knows basic facts about the patient throughout the process. One year after the donation, the recipient has the option to contact the donor.

Once a person registers, it could take years before they get that call saying they're a match for someone in need. Some people never get called. Lynn said that she's been registered for 18 years and never received a call.

"If I got that call, I can't imagine hesitating," Lynn said.

People react to the hormones differently and side effects can include fatigue, bone soreness, nausea and headaches.

Sullivan went through the PBSC collection and said it was a little uncomfortable, but that it's not much compared to living with cancer.

"I didn't require anything more than Tylenol the whole week I was there," Sullivan said.

"Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger and better," Sullivan said. "I saw this as an opportunity to help someone out with no strings attached. It's not an (enlisted performance report) bullet -- it's the potential to change someone's life."

Sullivan said that when he told people he donated, they were amazed that someone would do that. But he didn't think it was that big of a deal because it was so easy.

"They put a couple needles in your arm and you're done," Sullivan said. "It's not like you're actively risking your life. The biggest concern I had was having to go to the bathroom.

"Don't let the fear of the unknown stop you," he continued. "If you're worried about the pain or complications, do research and ask those who have done it.

"I was humbled by it, but anyone can do this -- all you have to do is give up a few days and some stem cells.

"Everyone says, 'I heard it hurts,'" Sullivan said. "I guess it does a little, but would you rather hurt a couple days or have cancer?"

Tech. Sgt. Tarissa Fulton, 403rd Aeromedical Staging Squadron and Keesler Blood Donor Center medical lab technician, went through PBSC donation less than two weeks ago and produced enough stem cells that the doctors were able to cryogenically freeze the extra for potential future use.

Fulton said she registered in 2004 in hopes that she was a match for a little girl with leukemia. The test was negative, but she got a call last October that she was a possible match for someone else.

"I counted it an honor and a privilege to be a part of that," Fulton said. "Remember what you're there for and the pain isn't that bad."

Rutledge registered in 2005 and donated last July. He said that the process was uncomfortable, but the worst symptoms resembled having the flu. Rutledge also said that there are cases where the recipient takes on traits of the donor and he likes to think that someone out there is not only his genetic sibling, but now they have a strange idiosyncrasy that he passed on to them through his stem cells

"I think it was one of the coolest things I ever did," Rutledge said. "I had a part of this person's life."

Rutledge also said that most recipients without a donation at that stage in their illness only have a 5-10 percent chance of survival, but with a donation, their chances increase to around 60 percent.

There are 284 registration kits available for the March 1 drive. If they're all used, that's 284 more opportunities to find a life-saving match.