The Gift of Life – Part 1

I’m going to make a departure from the usual Brain Blogger content today to discuss an event that has arisen in my personal life which I wanted to share.

When I was in college, there was a student on campus who had leukemia, and the campus held a drive asking students to donate some blood to be tested as a possible match. Figuring it was the right thing to do, I went and volunteered. The techs drew a few vials of blood, and that was the end of it. Not surprisingly, that student didn’t end up finding a match on campus, and I completely forgot about the whole event.

HydrangeaFast forward to April 2008, and out of the blue I receive a phone call from the New York Blood Center. Apparently when I donated that blood in college, they submitted the results to the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), which maintains a database of all potential donors. It turns out that I was potentially a match for an infant boy overseas with ALL (Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia), which is an aggressive form of blood cancer. For an infant with this type of cancer, the prognosis is very poor.

In order to be considered compatible, there are 10 specific cell markers that are identified and need to be matched. Only people who are identical for either 9 or 10 markers can be considered for a transplant. In the initial screening process, the blood is examined and 6 common markers are identified and stored in the database. If a potential recipient matches on at least 5 of those markers, then more bloodwork is done to identify the remaining 4 markers and see how close a match the potential donor and recipient truly are. The chance of being an acceptable match based on the initial screening is about 8 percent, which is a little disheartening.

In my case, I was a 6 out of 6 match with this infant boy, and with my consent I was asked to donate more blood to undergo the full marker analysis. The process of analysis is apparently time-consuming, as I didn’t hear anything for a few months. At the end of July, I received a phone call from the NMDP once again, and the results were mixed. The good news was that I was a 10 out of 10 match with the boy! Unfortunately, in the interim the boy had gotten ill and was not strong enough to withstand a bone marrow transplant. I was completely crushed. My thoughts went immediately to the family of that child, knowing that a donor was available and yet the procedure could not be done. The agent for the NMDP let me know that if for some reason the situation changed, I could be contacted in the future to resume the process. On the positive side, my profile in the database was updated to include information on all 10 markers, so if another person required marrow we could be fully matched right away and move forward without hesitation.

Not expecting much, I went about my life and tried to put the event out of my mind. Then, on August 8th I received a third phone call from the NMDP. The boy has gotten better, and his physicians want to move forward with the marrow transplant! I’m overjoyed. An information package was sent to me overnight, including an explanation of the procedure, the potential risks and side effects, timeline of events, etc. I am currently in the process of sorting through everything, but I will be adding a few more posts over the next several weeks to update my progress. In the meantime, please think positive thoughts and keep this young boy in your prayers, that he may continue fighting onward and stay strong until the transplant can be done.

Sajid Surve, DO

Sajid Surve, DO, is a physiatrist, acupuncturist, and osteopath who specializes in musculoskeletal medicine and integrative medicine.
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