Bone-marrow donation to save a life

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By Cari Hyden

Saving lives is what health professionals do. Sometimes, an IT guy gets a crack at it, too.

In donating bone marrow to a leukemia patient, Michael Hollis, Senior Systems Analyst, may have saved that patient’s life.

It all started last June when Hollis visited the UNTHSC Wellness Solutions Fair. Passing the Be the Match bone-marrow table, he saw team members using Q-tips to swab the inside of their cheeks to see if they were a tissue match for someone needing a transplant. Some 70 percent of those who need a transplant don’t have a close family match.

Easy enough, Hollis thought. So his tissue type was entered into the National Bone Marrow Registry.

“I knew I might be a match for someone, but I thought it probably wouldn’t happen,” he said. The odds are about 1-in-430.

Four months later, the call came.

The organization asked Hollis to be tested to confirm a possible match for an adult leukemia patient. He answered questionnaires and had blood tests at Be the Match offices at Cook Children’s Medical Center. “I definitely wanted to help somebody if I could,” he said.

The blood tests confirmed he was a strong match for the patient. The next step was “the most thorough physical I’ve ever had in my life,” he said, and more blood tests.

Hollis had disclosed throughout the process that he had a cancerous kidney tumor removed a few years ago. He feared that might disqualify him from donating bone marrow. But the doctor noted the cancer was caught early, no chemotherapy was needed and Hollis has been cancer-free ever since. He was approved.

The doctor not only scrutinized Hollis’ suitability as a donor, but also how safe the donation procedure would be for him. The donation was scheduled for mid-January and would involve drawing bone marrow through a needle from the back of his pelvic bone.

Did he have any misgivings?

“No, not at all,” he said. “I had been told the procedure can cause lower back and hip pain, but it hasn’t been bad at all.” A few days with medication and a pillow in his chair at work for a couple of days took care of it.

He was free to change his mind until the time of his procedure. But he says he never considered that for a second. He knew that in preparing for a marrow transplant, donor recipients undergo chemotherapy to destroy their bone marrow. They are left with no immune system if the donor backs out.

What would he tell someone considering registering with Be the Match?

“If you’re thinking about it, go ahead and do it. I can’t think of one thing that would have changed my mind once I knew I was a match. Even if the pain had been more intense, it would have been worth it,” he said.

“You’re not just making someone’s day. You’re doing the one thing their doctor tells them can save their lives.”


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