Why I Donated My Bone Marrow to Save a Stranger’s Life

Seven years ago today, I saved a man’s life.

While I don’t know his name, or whether he has had the good fortune to live to see this day, I gave him an extraordinary gift – my bone marrow.

Seven years ago, I matched a complete stranger. I had been on the national bone marrow registry since I was 18 and it took only seven years for me to be a perfect match. Seven has always been my favorite number.

I matched, at the time, a 29-year-old male with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. There was no doubt in my mind that I would donate. I held the keys to save someone, to give them something that no one else could. I was his lifeline.

Not everyone agreed with my decision. My family, while completely supportive, feared for my own well-being. Would something happen to me during the donation, what were the long-term effects? I understood, but all I could think of was if this was my family, if this was me, or someone I loved, and I had to rely on the generosity of strangers, I’d need someone like me to step up to the plate.

I went through some pain, I gave up paid working days, and it was an emotional roller coaster, as things didn’t go quite as smoothly as the registry had promised. Needless to say, I still saved that 29-year-old man, “Peter” as I liked to call him, since I didn’t know his real name.

I was only updated for a year about “Peter,” and up until that point, he lived. He was doing well and surviving. That’s really all anyone could have hoped for. I always wished he would reach out, send a letter, a card of thanks or maybe even call me, but he has yet to do that, and no one from his family has ever done that either. I don’t need that to complete the process, it would just be icing on the cake.

When I see people on TV meet their donors, or read their stories in the paper, I wish that could be me. And then sometimes I think, maybe “Peter” died. Maybe he’s not even alive to thank me. It’s such a black hole not knowing how it all turned out. It certainly wasn’t the ending I was expecting, but who knows, in 10 years, maybe “Peter” will come knocking on my door to say hello.

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3 responses to “Why I Donated My Bone Marrow to Save a Stranger’s Life

  1. Elissa Radvansky

    Dear Michelle,
    Your generosity of heart and bravery are overwhelming to me. You are an amazing young woman who I am proud and honored to call my daughter!!! (Please don’t let the lack of contact ever take away from what you did).
    Love you,
    Mom

  2. I had no idea that you did that! You’re so amazing.

  3. Although there’s no substitution for knowing the truth about your own recipient, I can share with you a story about my experience. I was a HLA 10/10 match last year to a young lady who had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Thru the services of the NMDP, we exchanged anonymous letters back and forth throughout the year, and finally met this past October.
    Her parents called on the morning of the one year anniversary. As a parent of two teenagers myself, we laughed, cried and laughed some more. During that conversation, they advised that not only was it their daughters first “re-birth” day, but that she would also be celebrating her 18th birthday a few days later. Long and short – my wife and I flew on 2 days notice from St. Louis to Portland and surpirsed by recipient by sitting at the table behind her at a local steakhouse.
    Her parents (along with friends and family) gave her a card for her 18th b/day with “Donor Information” enclosed. She dialed my cell phone and to her amazement heard me answer while sitting right behind her.
    It was an incredible weekend getting to know her and her family – and with all due respect to her parents, I genuinely feel as if I’ve adopted a third child. (She’s now cancer-free with 100% donor cells growing within, and adopted my immune system completely.)
    The experience has given me a “cause” in life, and I am proud to say that thru efforts at work and in my community, I’ve orchestrated 3 marrow drives and helped get hundreds of others to join the registry.
    Whether your recip is alive or not, whether he ever reaches out to you or not – you did make a difference. The challenge now (7 yrs. later for you, 1 yr. post-op for me) is to help others find that same feeling that you and I got to experience.
    Regards,
    Jeff

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