Monday, April 7, 2008

Bone Marrow (warning...long story)

8 years ago, when I was working at Chemonics in Washington D.C., the National Marrow Donor Program had a drive at our office to get people on their registry. It was something very simple, like a cheek swab or a finger prick (I can't quite remember). Anyway, over 7 years passed, and during that time I got married and changed my name, and moved 4 times.

Last summer, when Quincy was about a week old, I received a letter from the NMDP saying that I was a potential match for someone and requesting that I contact them right away. Before I got to make the call, I received a phone call from them. My mom fielded the phone call and explained to the NMDP person that I was 9 days postpartum. They said they would put me on the unavailable list for the time being and keep searching. After a while, I forgot about it.

Last November I got a call from the NMDP telling me that the search had not turned up any other potential donors for this little girl and asking if I would be willing to undergo further tissue testing to see if I was, in fact, a match. Of course I agreed.

After extensive tissue typing, it turned out that I was a match for this little girl. After many, many blood tests, a physical (including chest x-ray and EKG) by the physician who would be the bone marrow surgeon, giving unit of my own blood in case I would need a transfusion after the procedure, it was finally time to have the little surgery on April 2.

I was a little nervous, even though I knew the biggest risk was the anesthesia itself. I was so relieved to wake up and have it over with and to hear how well it went. The Dr. told Delores (the NMDP coordinator) that my cell count was so rich that he only had to take 2/3 the requested volume of marrow.

I spent a pretty comfortable (thanks to morphine) day in the hospital before being discharged to come home that night. The next day Delores called me to check on my recovery and had a message to share with me that had been sent from the NMDP headquarters in Minnesota. It was timed almost exactly 24 hours after the end of my procedure and said that my marrow had arrived safely at its destination and that the cell count was so rich that they were able to save some and freeze it in case she needs more later. What great news!

It turns out that the recipient is a 5 year old girl in Germany. She has Fanconi's Anemia, which leads to Aplastic Anemia, which is fatal when your marrow stops producing blood cells and platelets. The good news is that as long as the transplant takes, she should be completely cured and lead a healthy life. I continue to send prayers her way that it will be a success. I will get to see a report after 1 month, 3 months, and 1 year. At that point, depending on the transplant center's protocol, we may get to have contact with each other.

My family, friends and coworkers have been so supportive, and I really appreciate that! Thank you to the entourage who showed up at the wee hours to help with everything from childcare to just plain waiting in the waiting room!

It's amazing to me that people have seemed so impressed by this. I have been called a "hero" by so many people throughout this process. Whereas I do feel really good about what I was able to do, I guess I just feel like a regular person who made the only reasonable decision that could be made in this situation. If that's what it takes to be a hero, then I'm sure that given the opportunity, every one of you would be a hero too. In light of that, please consider joining the bone marrow registry. You never know when you will be the one in 11,000,000 people who could save someone's life through such a relatively simple procedure. I feel like I'm sounding like an advertisement, but for more information go to the National Marrow Donor Program's website at


Brittany Maloney said...

Perhaps you could post a link to the registry so more people could get info on how to sign up? You were such a champ- I especially liked you on Morphine- very cute! Rory really liked all your tubes and beepy machines. You are a hero, but not just becaue of your latest feat- but because you live your life as a constant role model to two boys who are and will be wonderful people. love yo hero, britt

Shahnaz said...

Thanks Britt. I edited the post to include the website at the end. Good call...I thought I had written it earlier in the the post, but I guess not.

Thank you so much for spending so many hours at the hospital. It's not easy to entertain babies in hospitals, but I really appreciate you being there. Rory was so cute with the IV machine! Sorry you weren't there long enough to have a Moonstruck milkshake with me.

Kara's Blog said...

You are truly an angel.... because doing that with two little wee ones takes a lot of sacrifice since I know your life is probably hectic enough as is. I just may have to get on he registry!!

Gary Kleiban said...


That is fantastic!
Your effort has given that family a huge morale boost and hope. Without you volunteering, that little girl would be in quite a bit of trouble.
Your action embodies how good a human being could be. You brought a smile to my face.


Cami said...

How wonderful that all went so well.

the Klinks said...

Shahnaz, this brought a tear to my eye. I've been wondering how everything went...glad it turned out so well. What an awesome thing to do.

Elisa said...

Shahnaz, How amazing. You are so selfless. I know someone who received bone marrow transplants when he was 16, the donor went to his high school graduation (anonymously) and then they finally met. She also went to his wedding. I'm so glad that the procedure went smoothly. Take care, elisa