Kris Ann Sherman, a 31-year old mother of two, flew to Washington DC to donate bone marrow to an anonymous recipient whose tissue type was a match.
Statistically, less than 30% of adults and children who need a bone marrow transplant find a suitable match among their own family members. Without this transplant, Kris’ recipient had less than a 15% chance of extending his life, but now, with her help, he has better than a 50% chance of living a long life. Here Kris shares her powerful experience, and encourages other moms to register as potential donors.
Thursday, June 16, 1998
After weeks and months of waiting, all the blood tests and arrangements, here I am at Seatac International Airport getting onto a plane. My sister will be meeting me at the O’Hare Airport in Chicago in a few hours. Together we’ll fly to Washington D.C., where I will undergo bone marrow donor surgery. It’s really going to happen. I am going to have the chance to try and save someone’s life.
The program keeps the name of the recipient anonymous. All they can tell me is that it is a 41-year-old man with acute myelogenous leukemia. We will never meet, but very soon he will have some of my bone marrow cells inside him.
My experience really began in February 1998, when a letter arrived for me addressed to Kris Ann Fohlbrook, my maiden name. I was curious when I opened it and amazed to find out it was from the C.W. Bill Young Marrow Donor Center in Kensington, Maryland. Six years ago I had registered as a potential bone marrow donor at a Red Cross blood drive. At that time I was still in the Navy at Puget Sound Naval Station in Bremerton, Washington.
The letter explained that I had been identified as a potential match for an individual with leukemia. If I was still interested and willing to be a bone marrow donor, I should call the C.W. Bill Young Marrow Donor Center at their 800 number.
I called immediately, spoke with a friendly woman named Christine, and told her I was definitely willing to be a donor for someone if I was the best match. Arrangements were made for me to give more blood samples, to further test the match. I had blood drawn at Bremerteon Naval Hospital on March 3rd. It seemed like a lot of blood — 12 tubes in all.
The screening process
It was a long 9 weeks before I heard anything. I was not quite prepared for the emotional effect of being a potential donor. There is a risk that your recipient’s condition may worsen, so that a transplant would no longer be possible.
On May 6th, Christine called from Maryland to let me know that I was the best possible match. When I agreed to be a bone marrow donor, I knew exactly what to expect and was able to say yes with the full support of my husband and family. So on May 15th, I flew to Washington D.C. and had a final physical at Georgetown University Hospital. Everything went well, and I signed the formal agreement to become a donor. I didn’t find out until then that the recipient still had not been informed that there was a donor available.
It wasn’t until I returned home and had one final set of blood samples drawn on May 26th for infectious disease markers that the recipient learned of his donor match.
Tender loving care
I was amazed and impressed with the wonderful support and assistance received by those who choose to be bone marrow donor. In addition to paying for all of my transportation meals, medical care and other expenses surrounding the donation, they also paid for a companion to accompany me. My husband Scott and I decided that he would remain home with our two small sons. My sister Kim, who lives in Michigan, agreed to accompany me to Georgetown University Hospital for the surgery. They sent her an airline ticket so we could meet in Chicago and travel together the rest of the way.
At O’Hare Airport I waited nervously after my sister’s flight from Kalamazoo was delayed. “I’m not getting on the plane to Washington D.C. without her!” I told the airline staff. She arrived an hour late, but she had already re-booked us on a later flight. That gave us a few minutes to catch up. I gave her one of the matching “angel watching over your heart” necklaces our mother sent especially for this day. Her angel is slightly bigger, because she is the “big” sister.
We talked nonstop during the entire flight to Washington D.C., excited to be together and too anxious to relax. A cab brought us from the airport to Georgetown University’s Leavy Center, adjacent to the hospital. I phoned Christine to let her know I had arrived safely. She reminded me about the letter that I was supposed to write to the recipient, which would accompany my bone marrow tomorrow.
Since I wasn’t sleepy, I spent a couple of anxious hours trying to express how I felt about being a donor. It’s hard to write an anonymous letter that is so personal. I think writing the letter may have been harder than the surgery itself.
One thought that I shared with my recipient is that except for the birth of my children, I feel as if this is the most important thing I have ever done.