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Fort Meade Naval Officer Has Chance to Give the Gift of Life

Bone Marrow
Navy Lt. Cmdr. John Schofield sits in recovery after undergoing transplant surgery for bone marrow extraction, Nov. 21.

This blog post is written by Lt. Cmdr. John Schofield, a Navy Public Affairs Officer stationed at the Defense Information School in, Fort Meade, Maryland.

A little over two years ago, I helped the Senior Medical Officer (SMO) on my ship organize a bone marrow registry drive.  There were close to 4,000 sailors stationed on board USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), so we felt like we could get at least half of them registered into the CW Bill Young DoD Marrow Donor Program.

I was in charge of spurring interest and marketing the event.  Our selling point?  It was easy!!!  It took less than three minutes to get on the registry.  You filled out one sheet of paper and allowed a corpsman to take a q-tip swab of the inside of your cheek. The benefit at the end was that you had a chance to save a life.  In the end, we got about 2,000 members of the crew signed up.

It was only as an afterthought that I let myself get registered. I took a marrow kit home, swabbed the inside of my wife’s cheek and entered her in the registry.  Then, I forgot about it.  I read in the registry literature that the chances of being identified as a match for a patient in need of a bone marrow transplant were very small. I never expected to get the call.

Then one day early last month…. that call came. I was a preliminary match for a very sick patient suffering from Severe Aplastic Anemia. Without a bone marrow transplant, this patient was facing death. Two years had passed. I was now stationed at Fort Meade, Md.  I was surprised and excited. I had a chance to help someone. I was warned, however, by the marrow program administrators that this was just a preliminary match based on the DNA from the cheek swab. Further blood testing was necessary.  There was still only a 1 in 100 chance of being matched as a transplant participant.

I gave blood at Georgetown University hospital in Washington, D.C. I was given a full physical. I went through the same type of questionnaires that you get when you give blood at the Red Cross. A few weeks later, they called again. After all of the testing, I was a very rare match! They wanted to move ahead with the transplant. I was told by the doctor at the time, “This is a chance for you to do something special. This is one of the only ways in this world, as a male, to give the gift of life to someone.”

This past Monday, Nov. 21, I underwent the transplant surgery. It took two hours. I stayed in the hospital that night and came home the next day. The procedure was nothing more than making two small incisions at my hips, drilling several small holes in hip bones (where a majority of the body’s bone marrow resides), and extracting the marrow. I was told the loss of marrow is the equivalent of giving about 4 to 5 pints of blood at one time; a very small sacrifice for the cause of saving someone’s life.

So now, I sit here at home pondering what just happened. This is the time of year that we are all reminded about the importance of community and giving of oneself to others. I had the chance to do that. Thanksgiving means so much more to me this year knowing that I was able to REALLY help someone in need. And, to the end, it was so easy.

People kept thanking me for donating. My co-workers, my friends on Facebook, the nurses and the doctors in the hospital – they all were overflowing with gratitude at this act of giving. Personally, I am confused by this dynamic. What else was I going to do? Say “no?” If we are walking by a swimming pool, and we see someone drowning – and no one else is around – I hope that we all would naturally act to save that person’s life. That’s how I view this bone marrow transplant. It was a “no brainer.”

What did it cost me to give this gift of life? I am facing two weeks of recovery at home and a little bit of pain and discomfort in my hips. I had to sacrifice one day out of my week to drive one hour to Georgetown from Fort Meade for the testing.  And now, three days after the surgery, I will be able to sit down with my family on Thanksgiving and enjoy this season of giving and community. As I look around the table during Thanksgiving dinner, I know that I will be struck with the thought of what would happen if my wife or one of my three children were sick. What if one of them needed a bone marrow transplant?

My hope would be that there are people out there who could be a match for them. The only way that happens is if people join the registry. It’s simple. The more people there are on the national bone marrow registry, the better the odds are at finding a match for a patient in need. So, I urge you to take a moment out of your day to join the CW Bill Young DoD Marrow Donor Program registry. Again, it takes only a few minutes to do it. This is the website – www.dodmarrow.org. There is also information on the site about how to organize a bone marrow registry drive at your command. If you are not a member of the military or a military dependent, you can get more information about the national registry at www.marrow.org.

There just might be someone out there who needs you to stay alive. As we enjoy the holiday season of giving, my hope is that more people out there take those couple of minutes and join the registry. I am almost overwhelmed with a sense of pride that I was able to help someone facing death. It is a feeling for which there are almost no adequate adjectives. I hope all of you reading this eventually get the chance to share this feeling. Thank you.

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