No Bones About It: Why I Decided to Become a Bone Marrow Donor

What if I told you that you have the power to completely change someone’s life for the better? That you may be able to cure someone else’s disease?

No offense to my fellow current medical school peers, but imagine if I told you that you could radically impact the health of someone else without ever enrolling in medical school? If you had the opportunity to improve a life, would you pass it up?

Recently, I was faced with that very question.

It all started with a cheek swab…

mathew-schwartz-718956-unsplash.jpg

Last year, “Be the Match Bone: National Marrow Donor Program” hosted a drive at PNWU to obtain potential bone marrow donors. The process sounded simple enough: if you were healthy and a match, you would likely be able to donate bone marrow. All I had to do was agree to a simple cheek swab and a minute or two of paper work.

I signed on and thought nothing of it, until months later when I was contacted in January about potentially being the match.

Honestly, after finishing the paper work, I never thought I’d be contacted. I’d agreed to give it a shot, as it all sounded so simple, but I never expected the phone call I would eventually receive. It came in the form of an unfamiliar number from Minnesota. Curious, I answered and was greeted warmly by a representative from “Be the Match.”

“We’ve found a potential recipient,” he explained, “and you’re the best match.”

They needed me to respond in the next few days if I was willing to donate for this person.

I knew very little about donating bone marrow when I’d signed up, but I’d heard that it was painful. Foggy memories of hearing about needles being driven through pelvic bones began to rush in, and my heart began to race. I had a decision to make, but as I stood there on the phone, I felt like I knew nothing about what I was potentially signing up for.

The “Be the Match” representative explained that the match for me was a 62-year-old man who suffered from a form of leukemia. If his treatment did not respond to chemotherapy, his physician was considering a bone marrow transplant. They wanted to explore the registry for his best match, and that match happened to be me.

I wanted to help, of course, but at what cost?

joyce-mccown-1106610-unsplash.jpg

Soon, I would learn that my fears were ill-informed.

Today, they explained, donations often no longer rely on the somewhat archaic method of inserting a needle into the pelvis to draw marrow out of the hip bones. Instead, you could now donate marrow by taking a medication that frees stem cells from your bone marrow into your bloodstream, which can then be siphoned from your blood in a near-painless procedure.

We talked a bit, and I told the person that I had signed up for this in the foyer of my medical school. I’d signed on as an osteopathic medical student to help others, and now I had an opportunity to do just that before I would even graduate. I decided to take the next step.

When I told my friends and family about my decision to serve as a bone marrow donor, I heard one common reaction: shouldn’t you just focus on your studies?

Medical school is stressful enough, they said. Do you really want to take on more worry?

But I wasn’t worried. I was inspired.

Something simple can save a life.

I considered their advice. I thought about the tests I had on the horizon, and all the studying that awaited me in the coming days. I thought about sleepless nights, studiously reviewing complex medical information. I thought about all of the stress I was already under. But I also thought about that 62-year-old patient, suffering from leukemia.

I thought about his family, praying that something could come along and help him. I thought about the pain he was experiencing, both physical and mentally. I thought about myself.

If I was in his shoes, I would hope that someone would help me. If one of my loved ones was suffering, nothing would stop me from helping them in any way I could. As I thought about serving as a donor, I decided to take that same approach.

As I write this, I have yet to donate bone marrow. I have done a bit more testing to make sure I am the best match, and I am patiently waiting for that call.

If and when it comes, I will be ready to answer the call.

John Rosasco

Osteopathic Medical Student - 2nd year (OMS II)
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences

John Rosasco