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I was the fight.
My father was diagnosed some months ago with a potentially fatal leukemia, and it turned out that my biology made me the best potential donor of the cells to give him a better chance of survival.
"I'm sorry to have you do this," he said over the phone. "But you basically save my life."
"You have nothing to apologize for," I assured him.
And I was really happy to help. As I had looked at, the leukemia read on him ̵
But the truth was, I found the view too scary. I didn't know much about donating stem cells and the risks involved, nor my family. Nobody knew we had ever done it. I had heard stories of people who donated their bone marrow from which stem cells are also harvested, but didn't know much about it either.
Would it hurt? How do I feel afterwards? Would there be any sustained health effects? What about bruises or scarring from the needles used to extract my blood?
This anxiety was also in play in my family. My three paternal aunts had been tested first. One of them came close, but was relieved when the doctors decided they could get closer to my brothers or me because we were younger. We were each emailed swab test to complete at home, which we admittedly pulled our feet back on.
Of course, the effort made the donation worthwhile. Only 30 percent of patients who need a stem cell donor can find a fight in their family. The other 70 percent should search for one in a worldwide database of non-related donors.
And our timing was good. It used to be the best chance of a good result, these potentially life-saving transplants were limited to those who could find perfectly matched donors. But over the last decade, medical research has had advanced haploidic or "semi-matched" transplants, making it easier for a patient's parent, siblings or child to become a donor.
This progress has been particularly groundbreaking for color patients. The odds of finding a full match are even lower for African American patients whose racially mixed genes increase the difficulty of finding a match I learned.
Other racemic minorities also have worse odds than Caucasians, who have a 75 percent chance of finding a perfect match.
Adding to the challenge reduces a number of barrier donor pools for African Americans. The pool is smaller because black donors are often resistant to enrollment. Some of that restraint stems from the general mistrust of the medical system. It can also be the idea of donating marrow is a "middle-class rich nation" thing to do, Dr. Jospeh Antin from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
"If you're worried about where your next meal comes from or the safety of the environment, you're not in the records," he says. Or the donation process may be overshadowed by other priorities, such as work or family, he adds: "You have no time to go and do these things."
Antin says some years ago it is estimated that bringing the number of African-American donors up to the level of other races would require 30 percent of the entire black population to participate in the donor register – something he doubts happen. But he says it is now clear that the key not only has several donors – it is capable of making transplants with donors who are not as precise as a fight.
& # 39; Would you? & # 39;
No one so my father's diagnosis comes. Deddi – our nickname for him, influenced by the southern accents we had as children – coaching a high school volleyball game, as intense chest pain disturbed him enough to go to the hospital.
What was expected to be an overnight stay was transformed into a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia. The news was a shock and instant life change for all of us.
He demanded an hour and a half of chemo, but that wasn't enough. He needed a stem cell transplant because his bone marrow had become ill and he had a FLT3 gene mutation that could inhibit the development of his leukemia. The transplant was to take place within a highly customized window, while my father's cancer was quite enough to withstand it.
In the days that led to the donation, I started self-injecting twice daily shots of a bone marrow stimulant. They triggered tolerable bone pain and fatigue, which makes me feel stiff and tired. Tylenol helped.
Instead of having the stem cells harvested from my bone marrow, which is the case for some donors, I donated through a process called afferesis. This meant that my blood was removed through a needle in an arm and filtered through a machine that collected my stem cells, which was eventually given to my father. The remaining blood was returned to me through a needle in my other arm.
It took about seven hours when I had my mother and a team of extremely friendly nurses to keep me company. The worst part had two large IV needles fixed in my arm, both of which were to be repositioned later, but it was done quickly and carefully.
Shortly into the procedure, my anxiety was overcome by a sense of serendipity. The transplant and my father's treatment were performed at my alma mather's hospital, UNC-Chapel Hill, the place that had prepared me to face challenges such as my father's illness with optimism and courage. It gave me the extra confidence I needed to go through with the procedure.
Within a few days I felt 100% again.
While my father's recovery is expected to take much longer, at least I gave him a big boost in getting there. I've also learned more about stem cell donations, and I'm convinced that we all need to know more about them – and do more to help patients in need.
Millions of people are able to help patients enroll in BetheMatch. org, and this is especially important for African Americans and other minorities. There is always a need for people to sign up because donors age 60 and some get sick.
Recently, religious professor and author Alan Levinovitz tweeted:
He learned the same thing I did: The risk of bone marrow donation is far offset by the benefits – to the recipient, that is. Donors benefit from knowing that they have helped save a life.
Then and I, of course, that this has turned my imagination – I have helped restore the life of the man who helped me to give life in the first place. But he is so much more than that.
In the days after my donation, I hit the lawn for my childhood home for the first time. My brother taught me; We split the work that had always been left to Deddi. As I floated into the mower on the mower and breathed in the scent of cut grass, I reminded the countless spring and summer days when he wanted to mow the grass like my friends and I played in the neighborhood cul-de-sac. 19659032] Occasionally he changes his rhythm by looking up and flashing a smile as we ran around playing the roof, reflecting the legendary spirit behind his hard-wearing exterior. Whether in his work as a coach and teacher or as a father, he has always struck a balance between getting a job and finding joy while doing it.
Today my father is still going through treatment and his body is adjusting to my cells. He is often tired, but the pattern strength to talk to me when he can. When I told him during a recent conversation that I wanted to write about the stem cell transplant, he jumped up.
"It's a good idea!" He exclaimed and noted that it could also inspire others to donate too. "The fact that you extended my life … I can never repay you."
Of course, I don't need a refund – except he gets better.