Friday, October 19, 2012

There, But For the Grace of God

Last month, I was scheduled to give a talk in Barcelona, followed by ten days of writing (read: playing) in Avignon and Paris. I was hoping to come across an appropriate story – someone interesting with a personal tie to the blood cause – for my monthly column in the America's Blood Centers newsletter while traveling internationally. Turns out, I didn’t have to wait very long. 

Despite my plan to sleep through the overnight flight to Spain, Brad, my seatmate, and I instead spent the better part of the flight in lively conversation about everything from business and travel to politics and religion (I know, I know – propriety was never my strong suit).

Ultimately, the conversation turned to blood, as it usually tends to do when you’re seated next to me on a plane. A long-time blood donor, Brad expanded his efforts in this area 12 years ago by registering as a bone marrow donor.

“A friend’s son needed a transplant, so I signed up immediately. I wasn’t a match for his child, but shortly after joining the registry I was told I was a near-perfect match for a 31-year-old man in Chicago.”

Brad underwent local anesthesia for the surgical removal of bone marrow through his pelvic bone. The marrow was then flown to Chicago where it saved the life of the young man Brad has never met, but whom he’s been told is doing well.

“I’m not going to lie, that procedure hurt,” Brad confessed, rubbing his hip as if the cellular memory of physical pain were still present. “And the recovery period was rough for me, especially when one of my kids got the flu and I had to be quarantined from him. It’s not easy being told you can’t even play with your own son.”

“So would you do it again?” I asked.

“I would and I did. Five years later, I was another perfect match, this time for a little boy with leukemia.”

“Even though you’d had such a tough time with the first donation?” I asked, probing to understand my new friend’s motivation.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Brad replied, “I figure, ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I.’” 

Having already discussed spirituality with him, I knew that Brad’s reasoning wasn’t based on religious dogma or duty, but rather an authentic sense of one human being wanting to help another human being – even if to do so was a pain in the...hip.

The second donation was also done surgically, and although his recovery period was easier, ongoing soreness was still an issue. I told him about the newer, more common, and simpler approach to bone marrow donations called peripheral blood stem cells (or PBSCs), which is performed much the same way as an apheresis blood donation. He’d never heard of this approach, nor was he aware that the majority of stem cell donations are now collected this way, rather than through the bone marrow. 

Brad then told me he’d recently received a third call regarding a possible match for his bone marrow. “Wow!” he said. “You’ve got me all excited about this now!”

Actually, Brad, I’m the one who’s excited. You see, lately I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the crap going on in the world – whether it’s the shooting of a little girl in Pakistan who spoke up in favor of girls attending school, or the abduction and murder of a little girl who was walking to school less than 20 miles from my home – and I am saddened by the seeming lack of compassion that is exhibited daily. But you, Brad, serve as a reminder that there are good people out there, everywhere, everyday. I’m excited that people like you exist. Meeting you, Brad, was a reminder that if I pay attention, I don’t have to wait long to cross paths with a truly good soul – a blood donor, a marrow donor, an organ donor. You’re everywhere, Brad. And you make the world a much better place. 

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