40 seconds to save a life

  • Published
  • By Col. George Ross III
  • 14th Flying Training Wing vice commander
In 1994 the child of a B-52 squadron mate of mine needed a bone marrow transplant for his childhood leukemia treatment, and a lot of us at Minot AFB, North Dakota, took the time to get registered. After giving a small vial of blood to get on the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry, I never thought much about being on the registry list.

Fast forward 11 years to April 2005. I received a phone call while stationed at the Pentagon that was about to change someone else's life. The voice on the other end of the line told me this was my opportunity to save a child's life; I didn't even think twice.

You never know if you may be the one-in-a-million match that a child, a parent, a relative, a friend or even your own family member may need to have a very good fighting chance at life.

I was happy to have been a match, but the young boy was even luckier and his parents forever grateful. The small sacrifice on my part was a tiny price to pay for the wonderful feeling of giving someone else a second chance to live.

The 50th Flying Training Squadron at Columbus AFB started its own bone marrow registry effort last month because a member's sister needs a marrow donation.

Instead of giving a small vial of blood like I did in 1994, today it takes only took 40 seconds to collect some DNA from your cheek cells in your mouth. I tell my story to show that it's a simple process with gigantic impact.

Why not take the 40 seconds to register, and then if some fortunate day, you find yourself on the receiving end of the same opportunistic call, you can make the slightly tougher decision to donate?

Each year an estimated 30,000 children and adults in the United States are diagnosed with leukemia, aplastic anemia or other fatal blood diseases. For many of these people, a bone marrow transplant or peripheral blood stem cells transplant is the only treatment.

All it takes is 40 seconds to perform four cheek swabs to place you on the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry. If you are a potential match, a donor coordinator from the C.W. Bill Young/DOD Marrow Donor Center will contact you to see if you wish to continue. If you make the decision to donate and are a member of the military, you and your commanding officer will sign the consent to continue.

From there you only have about a one-in-ten chance to be a successful match which doctors determine through further lab work. Once the lab work is complete and you are identified as a donor candidate, a representative from the program will contact you to see if and when you are available to travel to Washington, D.C., for the actual donation.

For me the donation procedure required two small, pen-point needle punctures through the skin and into my pelvic hip bones. The donation occurred on a Thursday while under general anesthesia and took less than 45 minutes. The Georgetown University doctors required me to stay overnight in the hospital, but the National Registry kindly ameliorated this minor inconvenience by treating me and my wife to a delicious steak and lobster dinner as a personal thank you for this small sacrifice.

The following day, the hospital discharged me back home with a smile on my face knowing that I might have saved a young boy's life. Recovery time for me was short, with little pain. In my case, the next day after the donation, it felt as if I had strained my lower back and some Ibuprofen took the pain away.

I took it easy that weekend and returned to full duty at the Pentagon on Monday.

On my one-year donation anniversary, the C.W. Young/DOD Marrow Donation Program coordinator told me the young boy was alive and well because of the marrow transplant.

Five years later, his cancer is still in remission.

There is a particularly urgent need for minority donors, but anyone in good health between the ages of 18 and 60 is welcomed to get on the national registry. I ask that you simply put yourself in someone else's shoes and imagine the hopelessness they might feel without the help from healthy individuals like you.

Your next selfless act has the ability to affect the hope for every person who knows and loves someone struggling with diseases that are treatable with a marrow donation.

Please find it in your heart to take the 40 seconds to begin the process and afford someone and some family struggling with a painful disease the opportunity for another breath, another day, another chance to live!