She was not the kind of match my mother would have normally approved of. Frankly, wasn’t the kind of match anyone would typically approve of. You see, I had never met this woman before and didn’t even know her name. For all I knew she may have been married with children. Yet I flew across the country, twice, to support her in a way that nobody else could. I formed the kind of bond with her that I will one day share only with my children. That’s because F-61 was a recipient of my bone marrow stem cells this past December 14—a whole bagful of my tomato soup-looking stem cells.
Allow me to fill you in from the start. It all started with a cheek swab after a JUF Young Lawyer’s Division board meeting. The volunteer was available, the test was painless, and it took less than two minutes—just about all the time I had to spare for extra appointments. Months later, one very early Monday morning in November, I got a call from the Gift of Life Foundation telling me that I’m a 100% match and asked if I was still available to donate.
That moment was like a TV scene where the world around the central character slows down once the “big news” is delivered. I immediately agreed to two cross-country trips to aid this unknown woman. The first was for my physical, the second for the donation. What I wasn’t ready for was the news that because F-61 was in remission, they needed me to fly in for a physical the following week—as in 6 days later! Although I’m a litigator and used to surprises, this was just crazy. I didn’t know how I would break the news to the judges, opposing counsel and my boss that meetings would have to be postponed and deadlines extended all at the last minute. Turns out the “bone marrow donor” card proved much more effective than the “my dog died” one. My calendar was completely freed up for both trips by that afternoon.
When I first got the call, I had this image in my mind of me strapped to a table, blinding lights, and a doctor drilling into my spine and sucking out fluid with a painfully long needle. Ignorance and some medically inaccurate TV were jointly responsible for the image. As it turns out, most donations nowadays are stem cell extractions that just involve needles. No anesthesia, no scalpels, no stitches, no bone drilling…just needles. The needles started when a nurse visited me at home the week before the procedure to begin a series of injections and continued up until donation day. The days went on, the blood samples continued, and the closer donation day came the more my arm looked as if I needed an intervention.
As I lay on the hospital bed on donation day, blood flowing out of one arm and being returned to the other—sans stem cells—I began to reflect on the year prior. For starters, it was exactly one year to the day after my grandfather passed away. Certainly there had to be some spiritual/metaphysical connection between my saving a life on the same day that he passed. Also, I then began to think that of the millions of people in the marrow registry, I was the only match for F-61. How incredible that modern medicine, with all its marvels and advancements, could not produce for F-61 what my body was able to in less than a week.
Sparing you the details of the discomfort of the shots and procedure, the bottom line is that sometimes the only possible cure to another’s illness may be contained within you; and if you’re not in the registry, some person desperately looking for you will never find you.
Now, I wait. It will be months before I find out how F-61 is doing. Perhaps I will never find out at all. Notwithstanding, I consider myself fortunate to have been given the opportunity to save a life. If anything, F-61 did me the favor. I can only hope and pray that I was as good a match for F-61 as she was for me. F-61, if you happen to be reading this, thank you. Signed, M-25.