By Airman 1st Class Regina Agoha
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The C. W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program is scheduled to come to Little Rock Air Force Base Monday through April 15.
This program aims to educate the base on the procedure and bring more awareness to minorities, who are at the bottom of the list for number of donors.
Active duty members from all branches of service, guardsmen, reservists, DoD civilian employees, contractor employees working on base, retirees and dependents in the age group of 18 – 60 years old are able to participate.
The program determines the eligibility of potential bone marrow donors. Even if someone is unable to give blood, doesn’t mean they’re ineligible to give bone marrow. Monday through April 13 will be for active duty members and April 14 - 15 will be for the guard and reserve units here. The drive will be held at the Base Exchange on April 13, from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. for any dependents. Family members can participate if they would like.
“What this program does is get a person into the national registry,” said Kelly Lawrence, 19th Medical Group registered nurse for the Family Health Center and coordinator of the drive for Little Rock Air Force Base.
There is a point of contact for each squadron, and that person will have registration kits for those who wish to participate. The kit includes a questionnaire and four cotton-tip swabs. The participants will be swabbed or can swab themselves in the four quadrants of the mouth between the cheeks and gum.
The swabs are sent to a national databank. Doctors from across the world search that databank for patients in need of a transplant. If a participant is found to be a potential match, they will be contacted for additional blood work to be performed to verify that the sample found was indeed a potential match for the candidate.
If the person is a match, there will be more testing and examinations before the transplant is actually performed to make sure that everything is accurate. There is no cost; however, for the donor; it’s all taken care of by the recipient.
The process is confidential. If someone is chosen to be a donor for someone, they will not know who they became a match for, but there are follow-up reports. The donor will receive updates on the recipient’s one month, three month, six months and nine months post-transplant reports. After 12 months post-transplant, the donor and the recipient will have a chance to meet if both parties agree. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, there are times when the transplant fails.
Lawrence said that many minorities aren’t given as much of a chance to survive as Caucasians are because minorities simply aren’t donating.
“Those in need of a transplant can only receive one from a person of the same ethnic background,” said Lawrence. “When you start getting into mixed races, the person in need only has a small window to begin with. More minorities need to donate.”
Lawrence said donating bone marrow is very important and she wants more people to have an awareness of this program; most people don’t donate because they fear the pain that comes with the procedure. “Going through that temporary pain is nothing compared to what the cancer patients endure,” she said.
Capt. Paul Fiasconaro, 19th Operations Group Stan/Eval Chief Navigator, and also a bone marrow donor, said his experience was 100 percent worth it.
“I would do it again if I could,” he said. “The experience was phenomenal. The C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program is outstanding. The feeling you get knowing you saved a life and being able to see the difference you made is priceless. The procedure was quitesimple, the pain was slight and only lasted two days; I was back on flying status two weeks after the procedure”.
Lawrence said her many years of observing the life and struggle of a cancer patient is what caused her to get involved with this drive and urge others to do so as well.
“From a professional view, I’ve been a nurse for 15 years and worked in cancer units for six and half years,” she said. “I’ve seen the patients in need of the bone marrow transplants and understand how important it is for them”.
“On a personal view,” she continued, “a very close friend of mine found out while they were overseas, that their only child, who was at the time 15 months old, had Leukemia. He (the child) had a bone marrow transplant. His donor was international, and I saw what that little boy had to go through. It breaks your heart. Six and half years in oncology can never prepare you to watch that. Unfortunately after the transplant, he developed an infection, and he passed away just three month before his fourth birthday,” she said.
Fiasconaro; however, had a story with a happier ending.
“I saved the life of a 12 year-old boy named Spencer,” he explained. “He spent the last five years of his life in and out of the hospital awaiting a perfect match for a bone marrow transplant. Spencer is 100 percent better and has not seen a relapse as of this statement. His parents keep me updated on how well he is doing in school, sports and everything else he is able to do since the procedure”.
Statistics show that it’s not a guarantee that recipients will survive even after a transplant, but one would never know if they have a chance if people don’t donate. All it takes is one minute for someone to open their mouth and get swabbed to see if a match is on the other end of the stick.
Here at Little Rock the drive will give everyone a chance to volunteer to help save someone’s life.
Fiasconaro said, “I just put myself in their shoes and would hope someone out there would do the same for me”.
If someone has donated before in either the DoD program or with a civilian national registry, they don’t have to be tested again. The test is good until that person’s 61st birthday. Being tested more than once can confuse doctors in to thinking that they have multiple matches, when it’s only one person who has multiple data entries. It is important to keep contact information updated. If someone has donated with the DoD program call 1-800-MARROW-3 or 1-800-MARROW-2 for the civilian registry to update contact information.