Soon to Be Stem Cell Donor

I’m only superstitious some of the time. I have no problem walking under a ladder or stepping on a crack or even with black cats (I love you, Chuck).
However, I am superstitious about next Tuesday.

It’s only a week away, but so much could go wrong. I’m nervous, excited and terrified all at the same time. I am ready to scream and can’t keep this secret about the donation inside any longer.

For those that may not have read my January 2010 (part one and two) posts, here’s the quick recap. I was lying on the beach in Key West, FL when I got the call that I was officially “Luke’s” bone marrow match – aka, the anonymous recipient of my peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC). I was honored to be able to make such a difference in one person’s life. Then, a little over a week before the February 1 donation date, I received a call that Luke was in the ICU.

My donation was canceled. They didn’t reschedule.

Believe it or not, twenty months later, this month, I received another call from Be the Match saying that Luke was healthy enough to receive the donation.

So here I am: one week prior to the donation and so many emotions are going through me. I wanted to write this post weeks ago when I found out I was going to donate, but was nervous. That silly little thing called superstition and the fear that my past blog posts jinxed my donation. Will this post cause some sort of problem to occur over the next week?

Over the next week, please think of Luke. Send your prayers to wherever you send your prayers and hope that my nervous, needle fearing self will get to go to the Annandale Apheresis Center next Tuesday to donate my PBSC.

If you’re not in the National Bone Marrow Registry, check out the do-it-yourself kit to register from home. You can also come to our Blood Drive/Bone Marrow Registry on October 27 at the 16th Street J.

What a great way to save a life!

(And if you know any good superstitions for keeping away jinxes, let me know.)


Help Save Elissa! Join the Bone Marrow Donor Registry

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

It’s been a while since I’ve written about my being a bone marrow donor for Luke. As you may recall, I was contacted in December and told that I was a bone marrow match. What a rush of emotions; excitement, fear, uncertainty, you never know how the procedure is going to affect you physically but it’s a great feeling knowing that you can save someone’s life.

Luke, as I named him (it is an anonymous donation), was put into the ICU just before my donation process started. My understanding, now 7 months later, is that he is still not healthy enough to accept the donation. So, I play the waiting game and hope that soon I will be able to help Luke on his way to recovery.

In the meantime one of our own, a DC Jewish Community Professional, Elissa, is in desperate need of a Bone Marrow transplant. I am obviously in the bone marrow database so we need you to join. It is a fact that it is more likely for someone of Jewish descent to be a donor for someone else of Jewish descent (but everyone is welcome to join us to register). With the help of The Gift of Life Foundation we will be swabbing cheeks and adding names (hopefully yours) to the registry. All in the hope that someone here is a bone marrow match for Elissa.

Please stop by the Washington DCJCC on August 5 between 5:00-7:30pm. You can schmooze with the 90+ people that have already said they will attend and once you join you can get yourself a SweetGreen yogurt from the SweetFlow mobile on your way out. Everyone that registers for the bone marrow registry will receive $1.00 off of their order.

Learn more about the bone marrow drive for Elissa at

How I Became a Stem Cell Donor (part two)

This is the second in a series of posts by Erica Steen, the director of the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service. You can read the first post here.

It’s been a week of ups and downs. There is no doubt in my mind that I am happy to donate my Peripheral Blood Stem Cells (PBSC) to “Luke” (aka– the anonymous recipient of my PBSC). But as excited as I have been there’s also trepidation. I am not a fan of needles or the sight of my own blood. I have spent the past week totally psyching myself up for my day at the Fairfax clinic. My mother has a plane ticket and two of the best girlfriends in the world have taken the day off to come hang with me. Their task: to distract me for the many hours it takes to complete my donation.

But, now I feel like I’ve let Luke down. I just got a call that he is in the ICU. Of course it’s not my fault he’s in the ICU, the donation isn’t even scheduled until next week but now it has been postponed. He needs at least five full days of chemotherapy before receiving the PBSC transplant and he needs to be in stable condition before that.

I am still Luke’s donor, but now we have to wait and pray. So if you find yourself with an extra prayer please send them his way (not that we know where he is).


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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