Donating Bone Marrow: A Life-Changing Experience

On the big day, I walked into the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center at 7 am for what was my seventh time in the center, but this time was special. After months of preparation, blood tests and waiting, it was finally time to take that big step. It was time to donate marrow and save the life of a 28-year-old male with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

As I walked in to the donation center, I was definitely not expecting all of this twists and turns that would come over the next two days. For one thing, at this point I was only expecting to be donating for one day. But even with all the unexpected twists and turns of the next couple of days, I am still so very happy that I was given this opportunity. How often can any of us say that we had the chance to directly and undebatably save another human’s life? There’s not a feeling on earth like it!

This time coming into the center, like the four times prior, I was given two injections of filgrastim. This drug coerces my bone marrow to generate extra blood stem cells which are then extracted through the peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation process.

After waiting for the filgrastim to take effect, I was hooked up to the donation machine and the process began. After only about thirty minutes of donation, I set a first for the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center; I passed out during a marrow donation. The last thing I remember, I was sitting up, eating Bill Miller breakfast tacos, and the next thing I know I’m horizontal on the chair and my feet are being held above my heart by one of the staff.

The my registered nurse, Eloy Rodriguez, began frantically taking my vitals, trying to determine what was wrong, but nothing was showing up. My blood pressure was normal, my pulse too. There was nothing obviously physiologically wrong with me other than I was pale as a ghost (yes, more pale than my normal) and I had just been involuntarily unconscious. After checking with the doctor, the decision was made to let me sit for thirty minutes and then try again.

After taking a break, everything was fine. I continued donating until about 1:30 pm, at which point Eloy approached me with some bad news. Apparently, my marrow had not generated enough stem cells to fill the need for the recipient in just one day. I needed to come back for a second day.

The next day I arrived at 8:30 am to do round two of donation. I have to admit that I was slightly less excited to be there a second day. I felt guilty, honestly. I hated the fact that the recipient was waiting, very sick, for an additional day because my body couldn’t make enough stem cells. But speaking with one of the staff members, I discovered that needing a second day of donation isn’t extremely uncommon. Approximately two out of every ten donors need that second day to fill the order.

Knowing that, the day got better. This time, I didn’t even pass out! Day two was far less eventful than the previous day. I watched Ratatouille for the first time, then began doing some programming work for the UTSA Rotaract site, and even got a visit from the resident PR photographer. By around 2 o’clock I was finished donating.

Even with all of the unexpectedness of these two days, they have been easily the most rewarding days of my life. I encourage everyone to to register in Marrow Registry. Saving a life will stay with you for a lifetime.