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Donating stories

BY EMILY INMAN | FEBRUARY 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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“Maybe you can share more one-on-one later, if someone asks.”

This is what I was told in early fall semester when I was ecstatic about volunteering to help with bone-marrow donation booths around campus.

“I think I’d rather you not go too much into your medical history,” the new UIHC donor-services coordinator told me in an e-mail.

But telling my story, and others telling theirs, is essential to acquiring more blood and bone-marrow donors — particularly minorities.

Sure, I never received a bone-marrow transplant. And yes, I did receive an experimental stem-cell treatment that cured my childhood bone-marrow cancer. But the reason I didn’t is more proof of the need for donations.

I was not a candidate for a bone-marrow transplant because I couldn’t find a match. I’m an only child, so I didn’t have a sibling donor. My father is white, with a mixture of Slavic backgrounds, Scottish, a rare line of Welsh blood, and Persian. My mother was Mexican, with ancient Mayan blood and other rare lines of native Mexican. To find that combination was almost impossible, and no one in the registry matched my type. They told us that there was — and still is — a grave need for minority donors. Because of this need, many minorities go without a bone-marrow match.

While waiting for a match, many patients live day-to-day by way of blood transfusions.

Currently, there is a dire need for blood donations in Iowa and across the nation. There are nine blood drives in Iowa City alone scheduled in the next two weeks.

“There is always a need for blood donations,” said Debra English of the UIHC DeGowin Blood Center at a blood drive this past Sunday.

But donated blood isn’t only used for cancer patients. Trauma incidents, transplant surgeries, normal surgeries, and many other aspects of medical treatment may require blood transfusions at some point.

My mother campaigned tirelessly to reach out to our community generally, and minorities specifically, for blood and bone-marrow donations. She jump-started several very successful blood and bone marrow drives. Her goal wasn’t only to find a match for me but to find a match for any patient on the waiting list and to encourage minorities to regularly donate blood.

Two days before one of her biggest scheduled drives, and while I was still undergoing steroid and chemotherapies, she passed away unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm while at work.

Our doctor flew in by helicopter and harvested her bone marrow to be used in a transplant for me — only half a match, but good enough if I needed it. I was undergoing experimental stem-cell treatment at the time and needed to finish the treatment course before we could begin the transplant.

Thankfully, the experimental stem-cell treatment worked, and I never needed the bone-marrow transplant.

Tomorrow is the 10-year anniversary of her death. And the need for bone-marrow and blood donors, especially minorities, is still as immensely imperative as it was 10 years ago.

The interaction I had last fall with the new UIHC donor-services coordinator was discouraging. I felt defeated. I felt useless and like an inconvenience.

But I was given a second chance at life, and I feel committed to sharing my story of hope with others and encouraging people to donate blood and bone marrow.

Just like at Dance Marathon and the UI Relay for Life, a part of what makes the drives and fundraisers successful are the stories that patients and survivors share with the generous volunteers and donors. 

Almost all of my mother’s organs were donated to people in need. The transplant recipients were cancer patients, some had congenital diseases, and others were in car accidents. One was an elderly woman with many grandchildren. Another was a young boy. All required many blood transfusions for their transplants.

Consider donating this week, and think about the stories behind the people receiving your blood.


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