Have you ever lost?

Luke?Have you ever lost something or someone that wasn’t really yours to begin with? It kind of aches and leaves a hole and you’re really not sure why.

August 30, I gave what people call “the gift of life,” through my Peripheral Blood Stem Cells (PBSC). I was excited that my cells could help fight someone else’s disease.

I found out this morning that Luke and I lost the fight.

Be the Match/National Bone Marrow Registry will not give you the name of your recipient until one year after the donation, but I needed a name. To be more personable and to make the situation more realistic for me, I began calling my recipient Luke (for the Leukemia that possessed him), to make him a person. Naming him made it much easier to fight for Luke and to give him my PBSC.

I understand the need for anonymity but it hurts to know that I can’t contact his family, send them a condolence card by name, or even learn the town where they live.

Do I have a right to grieve? It is a shame that this Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) could not have been a new beginning for Luke, this stranger in my life.

Still, it was still worth it and I would do it all over again.

If you aren’t a part of the National Marrow Donor Program, you should be. It’s easy to register, and saves thousands* of lives each year. I wish Luke had been one of them.

(And if you don’t feel comfortable joining the registry, join us to donate blood on October 27. I’ll be there.)


Read the whole story here:
How I Became a Stem Cell Donor
How I Became a Stem Cell Donor (part two)
Soon to Be Stem Cell Donor

It’s a New Year, Volunteer

*They currently need twice the donors they get. 10,000 people are on the bone marrow waitlist, and only 5,000 ever get the transplant.

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.)


Banning Gay and Bi Men From Donating Blood is Bigoted and Homicidal – or, Why the FDA Wishes There Were More Virgins

By Halley Cohen
Director, GLOE – Kurlander Program for GLBT Outreach & Engagement

If you are a man who has slept with another man since 1977, or, if you are a woman who has slept with a man who has slept with a man since 1977, you are ineligible to give blood in this country.

So sayeth the FDA.

And therefore, so sayeth every organization that runs blood donation services, which are required to follow the FDA’s guidelines and recommendations. (Section E, 1)

There is a critical blood shortage in this country. We need all the blood we can get.

Shortages are more likely in the summer, when businesses and schools run blood drives less often, and these past two months have apparently been the slowest in twelve years. Any quick search on “US blood shortage” will bring up thousands of recent articles.

There is a large, active, socially-conscious LGBTQ population in DC.

Many of us are ineligible to donate blood. Not for having any disease or traveling to “dangerous” countries or having the sniffles that day.

Being gay is an immediate disqualification.

Wait, I take that back – because they say it’s about behavior, not sexuality. So as long as you are a virgin who remains celibate, you can be gay and donate blood.

Gee, thanks.

Were they actually being logical about this screening question, ANYONE who has had sex with ANYONE would not be allowed to donate.

A virgin-only blood supply.

Because you don’t know all the partners of your partners. Like your high school sex ed teacher explained, you’re sleeping with everyone that person has ever slept with, and so on and so on.

But they probably figured out that using only celibate virgins would make the blood shortage worse, at a time when only 3 out of every 100 people in theUS donate blood. Maybe not quite a realistic solution, though it is the logical end of their argument.

The FDA policy to exclude men who have slept with a man comes from the early 1980s, when we were still figuring out HIV/AIDS and our tests for it weren’t so great.

Our tests now are pretty good. And all blood gets screened anyway.

Let me say that again:
All blood donated gets screened for HIV/AIDS anyway.

Health and Human Services could’ve changed this policy last year, but chose not to.

Non-gay men have HIV/AIDS, too. This statement should not be news to anyone (except, perhaps HHS).

In DC, where1 in20 people is infected with HIV/AIDS, it is criminal to perpetuate the stereotype that it’s “the gays” that get AIDS; this screening question does exactly that. It tells people that if you aren’t in that risk group, you can relax a little. That stereotype was why for years the rate of HIV/AIDS was going down in the LGBTQ community, while it was rising everywhere else (though there is a current resurgence).

Dawson students promote awareness for End the Ban during the blood driveI am incredibly moved by stories of gay and bisexual men (and the women who have slept with them), who have to lie on these screening questions because they know that they are as healthy as anyone else and they know how desperately the blood is needed, just so they can donate anyway. These are especially moving here in the DC area, where someone needs blood every 17 seconds.

Today at the J, there is a blood drive, from 4:30-8:30. Please know that I fully believe in blood donation and would never tell anyone not to donate when they see a local organization holding a blood drive. Many members of the blood banking industry “support a data-based reconsideration of deferral criteria.” In other words, not kicking out people just for being a guy who has slept with a guy. Or being a woman who has slept with a guy.

I am eligible to donate. Frankly, I’m healthy, have awesome veins, and am not particularly bothered by needles. I am even type O, the universal donor.

And I’m incredibly torn by this issue. I hate participating in bigotry, even bigotry by silent assent. Especially by silent assent.

Yet, not donating punishes only sick people. Not donating wouldn’t cause a shortage that might make the FDA notice; it would only make an existing shortage worse. As Jews – as people – we have the responsibility to save lives where we can. And also a responsibility to speak up for those who have been wronged.

Perhaps the FDA should consider that, in this time of the worst blood shortage crisis in over a decade, cutting out millions of potentials donors is a terrible, homicidal idea.

A 22-year old man was turned away from donating blood in Gary, Indiana this week because the workers thought that he looked gay.

Just in-case Hurricane Gustav wasn’t enough to remind you about emergency preparedness

Tomorrow afternoon from 4:30–8:30 pm the Morris Cafritz Center for Community Service will be hosting its first ever, “Prep and Plan” workshop. The recent evacuation of New Orleans ahead of Hurricane Gustav was a study in how disaster preparedness can make a world of difference for a city and its many residents. While Gustav was certainly not as destructive as Katrina, there can be no doubting that the city was certainly better prepared for whatever did come.

How can you prepare? You can sign-up in advance to learn CPR; registrations are also being taken for our Blood Drive, although walk-ins are certainly welcome for that and the Bone Marrow drive (the former involves needles, the latter does not).  We’ll be displaying a Red Cross-assembled emergency duffel bag which contains recommended supplies for a typical family of four for three days. We’ll give you instructions on how to assemble your own emergency duffel, and we’ll be giving one away as a door prize. We’re not talking about plastic sheeting and potassium iodide pills, but real and practical steps you can take to be better prepared for a host of possible disasters.

Image via flickr
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