I Donated Bone Marrow to a Stranger
Donors do not have to pay for anything to donate. Be The Match even reimbursed me for mileage for when I had to drive anywhere (for lab tests, blood donation, medical exams, the procedure itself) and put my husband and me up in a hotel close to the hospital the night before the procedure.
Finally, it was time for the procedure. I had been told that I would be given general anesthesia, the procedure would take about an hour, and I would most likely go home that same day. As for recovery, I was told I would have some pain and discomfort in my back and that it would take a few days to a few weeks to go away. Most people go back to work after a couple of days.
The day of the procedure, I arrived at the hospital at 5:30AM for the 7:30AM procedure. I checked in, got in a hospital gown, and was hooked up to an IV. Of course, more blood was taken. I think they even did one last pregnancy test! Pregnant women can’t donate, so they take this very seriously.
Finally, I was wheeled to the operating room. The anesthesiologist asked me to imagine being in a relaxing place and asked where that was. I replied, “Hawaii.” He asked which island, and I said, “Maui.” He asked what time of day it was, and I answered, “afternoon…” The next thing I heard was a nurse saying “You’re in recovery and doing great!”
I was in recovery for a little while where I rested and received my blood transfusion. I was then brought to “surgical day care” to continue to recover. I carefully drank some water, then juice, and then got crackers. I was able to sit up gingerly and walk to the bathroom with the help of a nurse. My husband, who had been in a waiting room all this time finally got brought in to see me. The doctor had given him an update and told him they were able to extract a good amount of bone marrow and that it was already on its way to the patient.
I do have to say that it was more painful than I thought it would be. I had four punctures on each side of my back with bruising, but that wasn’t painful. The painful part was the lower back muscles, which were obviously not happy to have been stabbed with a needle eight times! It was difficult to walk or do any movements that required using back muscles, which I found out was quite a lot!
Finally, after more blood was taken to test my hemoglobin levels, it was time to go home with instructions to change the dressing daily, take pain medication around the clock for 24 hours, and eat a well-balanced diet with iron-rich food to help my body regenerate the blood and bone marrow (which takes 4-6 weeks).
When I got home, my husband and two sons were so sweet and took wonderful care of me. They brought me crackers and juice, and I was able to lean on my sons to walk to the bathroom. My husband made me the most delicious chicken noodle soup with iron-rich spinach! I had an ice pack and medication to manage the pain. I spent that first night on the couch but was able to walk to the bathroom by myself by the time I went to sleep for the night. The next day I was able to walk upstairs to the bedroom.
From there, each day got easier. The back pain lessened every day. The procedure was on a Thursday, and I went back to work the next Tuesday. Going back to work was hard, because the back was still quite painful. I used an ice pack while driving my hour-plus commute, took Tylenol, and just moved slowly and carefully. After about a week, I started using ibuprofen, which really helped, since it is also an anti-inflammatory. After the second week, I would say I was 90%+ recovered. Today, over three weeks later, I am at 99%. I still feel a twinge now and then, but most of the time, I am moving around with no problem and not even thinking about it.
I am told that I will get a report on how the patient is doing in 30-45 days. All I know about her is her age, her disease, and that she is in the United States. I really hope that my bone marrow helps her and can’t wait to get that first update. I will get another update at 6 months and then at one year. At the one-year mark, if we both agree, we can find out who each other is and directly communicate. I would love for that to happen, because I already feel connected to her.