My Bone Marrow Donation Story – Be The Match

At the end of July last year, I donated bone marrow to a woman with leukemia that I didn’t know in hopes that I could give her a second chance at life through an amazing national registry called Be The Match.

January is National Blood Donor Month & the perfect time for me to share my life-changing experience. Even though I haven’t met her (yet), I never would have dreamed it was in my future to potentially save a life through donation.

Donation Day at Loyola Hospital in Chicago.

Back in 2017, I got news that a former cast mate from my cruise ship days, Julie, was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia. An amazing talent & even more amazing friend. I was heart-broken. With so much life to live, I refused to believe that this was the end of her story (spoiler alert, it wasn’t!) As she updated all of her friends & family about her progress, one post talked about needing a bone marrow transplant. Without even thinking, I replied “I’ll do it!” She let us know that if we truly wanted to help someone in need that we should sign up with Be The Match – a national registry to help those with blood diseases find a second chance. So, I signed up in January 2018 – the same night I saw my friends post. (If you’d like to donate to Julie’s cause in fighting cancer, visit (www.gofundme.com/julieleblancefights)

My sweet friend & former cast mate, Julie.

By May, just 4.5 months after I signed up, I received a call that I was a potential match for someone & if I accepted I was to get some blood drawn to further assess if I was the best candidate for this patient. I accepted, got blood drawn & then waited to hear back.

All I knew about this person was her age & her disease. So I named her Nancy. The identities of the patients are kept very confidential throughout the process. Nancy also knows nothing about me. But 9 months from my donation day I’ll get an update on how she’s doing. And maybe someday, I’ll get to meet her.

Another month goes by & I receive news that the doctor overseeing Nancy’s treatment has deemed me the best match. Now it was time for me to get a full medical workup with x-rays & more blood tests. And by the end of June, I was setting up my donation day.

With Be The Match there are two options – PBSC (peripheral blood stem cells) or surgical. With PBSC, it’s non-surgical & 5 days leading up to donation day you’re given a series of injections of filgrastim. This is a medication that increases the number of blood-forming cells in your bloodstream. On donation day your blood is passed through a machine that separates out the blood-forming cells & the remainder is returned back to you through the other arm. With the surgical option, the donor goes under anesthesia & doctors use needles to withdraw bone marrow from your pelvic bone. With both procedures, about a quart of bone marrow is taken out. Nancy’s doctor decided that the best method of donation was a surgical procedure. This is completely dependent on each patients unique case.

This is Alexa – she donated through PBSC this past winter for a 54 year old man with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Between the full medical evaluation & the donation day I had 2 appointments to make sure I wasn’t pregnant or hadn’t suddenly contracted any diseases myself. I also “donated” blood to myself in case I needed it post surgery. With everything in the clear, we were a GO for donation.

On donation day, my fiancé Tim & I woke up at 4:30 am to get to Loyola Hospital in Chicago for a 5:30am to check-in. My procedure was to take place at 7:30am & would last between 1-2 hours. Tim kept me distracted as I began to get nervous with all the IV’s & monitors being hooked up. And when it was time to go, he kissed my face & said “see ya in a bit.” He kept everyone updated throughout the day on my progress & how I was feeling.

I passed out FAST. I don’t even remember going in to the operating room. But I remember waking up thinking how tired I was. And in no pain which I noticed right away. It was almost that feeling of having a sore back from sleeping too long.

I got up to my recovery room, got out of bed & thats when I felt discomfort. I realized that nothing truly “hurt”. But it felt as if I’d fallen on my coccyx & it was now very sore. Tim had to help me lower on to the toilet (super sexy) & also get in & out of bed. And because of all the water I was drinking I was up & down a lot throughout the day & later that night. I think I fell in love with him all over again that day seeing what an amazing care-taker he was. We were given the green light to head home around 4:30pm that same day. I was prescribed some pain medication as well as a list of vitamins I should be taking throughout my recovery process such as iron, calcium & magnesium.

I’m sure you’re wondering about the risks involved. Every doctor will tell you that with every surgery there is a risk of death even if that risk is less than 1%. This is why you undergo so many tests & consultations to eliminate any issues that could result in post-surgical issues. A procedure like this has less than 1.34% chance of death & those few are due to anesthesia complications.

Recovery time for my procedure was about 3 weeks. Seems like a long time but it took 3 weeks until I felt I was feeling completely healthy.

First week: My hips & back were sore & movement was limited. I also was fatigued & felt light-headed from time to time. All were completely normal for the recovery process

Second week: Less soreness & the fatigue/light headedness started to fade.

Third week: I felt mostly myself aside from the very few times I became light-headed. I could also start working out again doing light weights & gentle cardio (brisk walking, stair climbing).

Another thing to note is the regeneration of your bone marrow takes between 4-6 weeks. If the fatigue & light-headedness last a little longer it’s most likely connected to that. 

Prior to my first phone call in May I had been doing the keto diet & exercising regularly which put me in prime condition for a surgery. The healthier you are, the faster your recovery. I also truly feel in my heart that this was God at work in my life. I was fully committed to this new diet/fitness lifestyle which primed my body for this process. Not to say you need to be in the best shape to do this, but I think it made a difference. Maybe in ways I don’t even know.

It’s crazy that in under 5 months of signing up for the registry I was matched to someone. Tim is still waiting to hear if he’s a match. Some that register go their whole life not being matched while some match multiple people! On average 1 in 300 Be The Match members are matched to someone however 1 in 430 will actually go on to donate.

Here are some statistics for those of a different heritage to be matched:

African America/Black: 23%

Asian/Pacific Islander: 41%

Hispanic/Latino: 46%

American Indian/Alaska Native: 57%

Caucasian: 77%

We can change those statistics & we should. All it takes is a little bit of your time. And what an amazing life changing experience this was. I’ll have a updated post in a few months once I’ve heard about Nancy. In the meantime, send her your prayers!

Want to learn more about the process? Visit: https://join.bethematch.org/faqs-about-joining?language=en_US

Ready to sign up? Visit: https://join.bethematch.org

Want to get more involved aside from donating? Visit: https://join.bethematch.org/support-the-cause/participate/volunteer


9 thoughts on “My Bone Marrow Donation Story – Be The Match

  1. This is so honorable! What an amazingly brave and senseless act in honor of your beautiful friend. That picture of Julie- she looks so happy and care free it is just so sad to think of her diagnosis.

    I might have missed this, but may I ask how they are both doing now? I also love meeting fellow WordPressers so nice to meet you!

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  2. I took the time to read this because this is something I had always considered. Your story is beautiful and thank you for sharing – you are inspiring people like me who have thought about being a donor but nervous. My goal in the next two months, is to do this. Thank you and thank you again for sharing your story ❣️

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  3. I was just thinking about how we could all use some more kindness in this world and this post shows just that. Being able to help others, even if you don’t know them, is a truly selfless gift. I’m sure Nancy is feeling so relieved knowing she got the marrow she needed.

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  4. I may be Nancy. I received life saving stem cells in June, 2018. I named my donor Grace. Her generosity and kind spirit has allowed me to continue living my life with my family and friends. What a blessing donors are to people like me. I pray for you and know that God will bless you for being such a blessing to others.

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  5. What a selfless act, my husband has ALL & AML and received a Bone marrow transplant in November of 2017, and his brother is a half match. It’s a rough road and a long road but so worth it!! Thank you for donating, you have no idea how much it means to the person who is receiving your bone marrow ❤️

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