Saturday, July 6, 2024

Thank you, organ donor!

For a fun summer read,

July is my birthday month, and this year, I had to renew my driver’s license. So I made an appointment, drove to the center and got in the queue. When my turn came, I gave the lady my old license and she asked if my height and weight were the same. “Close enough.” Then she asked if I still wanted to be an organ donor.

It wasn’t the first time I thought that without someone else being a donor, I wouldn’t be here. Back in 2010, I had moved to Tennessee for a new job, and within two months of starting, I was hospitalized for emergency surgery and while in recovery, my blood work came back abnormal  and I was transferred to the cancer center with ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia). At 60 years of age, I was attacked by one of the cancers most known for affecting children. No precursor, no warning. I had had a thorough physical just before accepting my new job. Now I would be doing eight rounds of chemo, in the hospital more days a month than at home. I couldn’t work or drive; barely ate. My vision was bad to the point I couldn’t write, which was my passion. Many of you probably know the cancer drill.

When I was growing up, I don’t recall hearing of someone with cancer, whereas nowadays, just about everyone has someone close to them affected by the disease, which takes many forms. Perhaps we’re more aware because of modern media methods, or perhaps it’s because the medical field can diagnose sooner and more accurately.

As of June 2024, an estimated 1.6 million people in the United States are living with blood cancer, which includes leukemia, myeloma, Hodgkin lymphoma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Blood cancer is a serious illness that occurs when abnormal blood cells grow out of control and crowd out normal cells in the blood, bone marrow, or plasma. This prevents normal cells from developing and performing important functions. Of that number, an estimated 437,337 people are living with or in remission from leukemia. In 2024, the American Cancer Society estimates that about 62,770 new cases of leukemia will be diagnosed and 23,670 people will die from the disease.

Fortunately, there is a cure for some Leukemia in the form of bone marrow transplants. We don’t often think of our blood as “an organ” in terms of transplants and while donating blood is done quite often, donating bone marrow is a more involved process. The hospital looks for a donor who matches in as many as ten different markers, not just a blood type as you might think. My sisters and brothers and several nephews and nieces volunteered to be tested but there were no matches. My children couldn’t be donors as they had half of my DNA.

Luckily there is the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), which operates Be The Match, the world's largest and most diverse registry of potential bone marrow and blood stem cell donors. Be The Match works with a global network of partners to facilitate transplants, including 180 transplant centers and 19 public cord blood banks. It has over 7 million registered donors in the US, and fortunately, through this organization, they were able to find a perfect match and I had a bone marrow transplant in April 2011. The donors are anonymous and all I ever knew was it was a female in her thirties -- a lovely person willing to take the time and go through the extensive process for someone she did not know. That was thirteen years ago. Thirteen years in which I have been able to resume writing and watching my grandchildren grow into their teens. Thirteen years I would not have had without a donor.

So at age 75, when asked if I wanted to be an organ donor, I wasn’t sure much would still be useful, but my answer was a definite “yes.”

 Another Happy Birthday!

Barbara Baldwin


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