Risa Ashley held out a card she received unexpectedly in the mail.
“This,” she told me, “puts it all in perspective.”
The note was from a man in Kansas who had received Risa’s blood stem cells to fight a life-threatening blood cancer.
“Four years ago . . . you saved my life,” it read. “ My wife died six months before I was diagnosed with cancer. Life was not good.”
Risa has donated blood throughout her adult life. During a routine donation, she and her husband volunteered to join the Be the Match Registry, an organization that finds donors whose blood can help patients with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma.
A simple mouth swab determined that Risa’s blood matched that of a patient in Kansas.
If a donor’s blood matches, they are asked to donate either bone marrow or cells from circulating peripheral blood stem cells.
Risa drove four consecutive days to receive injections of filgrastim, a drug that increases the number of blood-forming cells in the bloodstream. She experienced headache and minor muscle pain, similar to a cold or the flu, as side effects of the drug.
Her determination to help a stranger never flagged, and she drove to a donor center on the fifth day for a process called aphaeresis, where a needle is placed into each arm and blood is removed from a vein in one arm and passed through tubing into a blood cell separator machine. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through the other arm. Blood-forming cells are back to their normal levels within four to six weeks.
“The hardest part for me was just sitting still for two hours.” Risa said. If you visit Meadows Library, Risa is the dark-haired flash of energy who finds and shelves books faster that most librarians can scan a barcode!
Though most patient information is confidential, Risa did know his age, gender, and disease. Donors and patients usually remain anonymous one or more years after the transplant, but if both give consent, updates and contact are allowed through the transplant center.
On average, one in every 540 members of Be the Match Registry in the United States will go on to donate bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells to a patient.
If a donor has an uncommon tissue type, that donor might be the only one out of more than 9.5 million registry members who can save a person’s life. Every person who joins the registry gives patients more hope of finding the match they need.
While transplantation is a life-saving therapy, not all patients survive. Sometimes a patient’s body can’t withstand the pre-transplant chemotherapy and sometimes health complications occur after the transplant.
But for many of those with blood cancers, the gift of blood from a donor gives them hope and a second chance at life.
Risa’s generosity does put everything into perspective.
Susie Casstevens serves as the librarian for the AH Meadows Public and High School Library. Contact Susie at 972-775-3417 ext 1061 or visit the web at library.midlothian-isd.net