How I Became a Stem Cell Donor


by Erica Steen, director of the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service at the Washington DCJCC

I have never won anything: lottery tickets, raffles, not even board games (OK, maybe sometimes). Until a month ago. I got a phone call that “Luke” and I were winners. WooHoo!

“Luke” is the nickname my friends and I made up for the recipient of my Peripheral Blood Stem Cells (PBSC) — the donation is anonymous. And though, in the end, I don’t get anything (I actually have to give), I think I am pretty lucky to be able to give this gift. In this case, it is better to give than to receive. Welcome to the beginning of my journey…

The journey actually began three years ago. I had been working as the Director of the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service and for the first four months my friends commented over and over how great it was, all of the volunteering I did. But I wasn’t volunteering. I was getting a paycheck for all of our work (I guess the hours above 40 per week could be considered volunteering). So, I decided it was time for me to volunteer. I received an email promoting the NBC4 Health and Fitness Expo and thought it sounded like fun. The email was looking for volunteers to help register people for the National Bone Marrow Registry. “Well,” I thought,  “if I’m going to register others I guess I should register myself.” Over the past three years I’ve worked with the program to hold bone marrow registration drives at the Washington DCJCC in-coordination with our blood drives (we’ll be announcing a new date soon).

I didn’t expect what came next.

December is the busiest month in the Community Service Department here at the Washington DCJCC. We all tend to work 12+ hour days and it is very rare that I am sitting at my desk and am able to answer the phone when it rings. But, on December 15, Susan with Be the Match, National Marrow Donor Program got lucky. I answered. She mentioned that I was a possible match for a donor in the database. She took me by surprise. Oh. My. God. What does this mean? I’m not exactly a fan of needles and can’t even look when I give blood.  But, this could save someone’s life.

So, on December 16at noon, I went to a nearby clinic to give a blood sample just to be sure that I was the best match. Our December 25th Day of Service came and went and I headed out of town with friends for some much needed R&R. At this point it had been over 10 days and I figured there was someone else out there must be a better match for Luke. I thought too-soon. On December 30 at 11:30am (while lying on the beach) I got the call. Now, we hadn’t won just yet, but almost.

Next step, a physical. On January 8, I headed to the clinic in Annandale, VA. I met Mostafa and Karen and Dr. Nam who asked all sorts of questions, took more blood and showed me around where I might possibly spend a day hooked up to a machine harvesting stem cells.

I’ve been sitting on pins and needles for the past 6 days waiting to hear if I (or really Luke) won the stem cell lottery. And the answer is yes!

So here we go. I hope you will follow my journey over the next couple of weeks. February 1 is the day. Susan originally mentioned donating February 2 but I was going to have none of that. I saw the movie Groundhog Day.

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One Response

  1. […] On becoming a stem cell donor. […]

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