Your Turn

Does it Hurt?

By Katie O’Connell ’11

When people hear of bone marrow donation, the first thought that comes to their mind is: “Does it hurt? Is it painful?” In actuality that is not the case. Many don’t know that there is new technology and a new procedure [peripheral blood stem cell transplant] that have been developed to speed up the process of donation and recovery.

The first step, of course, is registering as a bone marrow donor. At the end of my first year at Holy Cross, I attended a bone marrow banquet  hosted by the student organization MIX (Multiethnic Identity Xploration)—patients with multiethnic backgrounds have a harder time finding bone marrow matches. Inspired by the speakers at the banquet, I decided to sign up as a donor with my friends.

At the start of my second year, I received a call about a possible match. Usually, registered donors spend years on the registry waiting to be a match, but, in less than a year, I was contacted. What was even more uncommon was that I was a perfect match for the patient! At that moment I knew that this was something I was meant to do, almost like a calling. I was nervous but excited at the same time to start the donation process.

I donated during my Christmas break of 2008. It was an all-day procedure, but the actual donation took roughly five hours—only five hours, and I was able to provide 230 million stem cells. The bag containing my stem cells was about the size of my hand, and I was shocked that one small bag could save someone’s life. What was even more surprising was that it took only a little more than two hours to transfuse those stem cells into the patient’s bloodstream. These two facts opened my eyes and really taught me to appreciate life. It was so surreal knowing that I might be able to help someone and possibly save his or her life in such a manner.

I didn’t quite understand the Holy Cross motto, “men and women for others,” when I began my first years on the Hill, but now I have come to appreciate and find so much meaning in those words. My experiences at Holy Cross—including working as a program director for the Hope Lodge through SPUD (Student Programs for Urban Development) and being a multicultural peer educator—helped me understand that motto and have made me who I am today. I have learned that my passion really lies in helping others, and what better way than to donate bone marrow in the hope of saving someone else’s life?

I am happy to say that, at the moment, the patient who received my donation is in recovery and free from her cancer. A lot of people have asked me if I know the person I donated to. When I tell them that I don’t, they seem surprised. (The registry only shares the patient’s gender, age and diagnosis with the donor. After a five-year waiting period, the patient may choose to meet his or her donor.)

Some find it hard to understand the reasoning behind helping a stranger, but that is what my Jesuit education teaches me: To help those in need, any way that I can, no matter the circumstances. Donating was truly an opportunity to understand deeply human interconnection. I encourage everyone to register as a donor.

Visit marrow.org to learn more about the national bone marrow registry.