2014-01-24 / Community Events

Saving life beyond the call of duty

By Darryl Orrell
Center for Security Forces Public Affairs


Official U.S. Navy file photo of a surgeon performing a bone marrow harvest operation. The procedure consists of inserting a large-gauge syringe into an area of the hip and extracting the bone marrow. The bone marrow is then transfused into the recipient and helps recreate and replenish T-cells and the white and red blood cells. 
Photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Chad McNeeley / U.S. Navy Official U.S. Navy file photo of a surgeon performing a bone marrow harvest operation. The procedure consists of inserting a large-gauge syringe into an area of the hip and extracting the bone marrow. The bone marrow is then transfused into the recipient and helps recreate and replenish T-cells and the white and red blood cells. Photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Chad McNeeley / U.S. Navy A Navy chief, assigned to Center for Security Forces Detachment Chesapeake, will undergo a bone marrow aspiration procedure Jan. 28, in a selfless act to reach out and save the life of someone in dire need.

The C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program, also known as Salute to Life, was established in 1991. The program is designed to work exclusively with DOD personnel in managing bone marrow and stem cell donations.

The program has successfully coordinated more than 6,000 donations. It also has more than 800-thousand people who have joined the registry through the program - people who stand ready and willing to help save the life of someone in need.

At some point in his career, Chief Boatswain’s Mate Michael R. Kelly underwent DNA testing to see if he would be a possible match for someone needing a bone marrow transplant. Last December, he was found to be a perfect match for a middle-aged male who suffers from a condition known as multiple myeloma.

“Once I got the information, I really wanted to do this because the person [I am helping] is only one year older than my father and I know how I would feel if I were that person’s son and so, I knew I wanted to do it,” explained Kelly.

According to the American Cancer Society, multiple myeloma is a cancer formed by malignant plasma cells. These malignant cells can crowd out normal bloodforming cells in the bone marrow and cause low red and white cell blood counts. A shortage of red blood cells, known as anemia, causes a person to become pale, weak, and fatigued as well as cause increased bleeding and bruising. A shortage of white blood cells can diminish a person’s immune system and impair a person’s ability to fight off infection.

“When I told my wife, she was hesitant when she talked to the [coordinator] because she was told I would be hurting, in a lot of pain, and that a lot of people [choose] not to do it..., but it’s for a good cause,” said Kelly.

There are two procedures for donating bone marrow being the “traditional” and the “peripheral blood stem cell” process. Due to the specific needs of the bone marrow recipient, Kelly will need to undergo the traditional procedure. In this procedure, the needed marrow is extracted by using needles inserted through two small incisions. The needles penetrate the soft center of the patient’s hipbone where a large deposit of bone marrow is located in the human body.

“The entire process takes about an hour and a half. I mean an hour and a half to save someone’s life or possibly extend it a little bit longer,” said Kelly pointing out how a minimal investment of one’s time can save the life of someone else.

Kelly went on to explain that after the procedure, he will not be able to move a lot, he will have a great deal of stiffness in his back, and would be on medication that promotes increased production of bone marrow for about two or three days.

The program also keeps the personal information about donors and patients confidential and as for Kelly, the only thing he knows about the person he is helping is the individual is a middle-aged male suffering multiple myeloma.

“The biggest fear is retribution because there are scandalous people. [People who would say], ‘Hey, I just saved your life, you owe me XYZ amount of money...’ or they’ll try to go after the family,” explained Kelly on why confidentiality is so important.

Kelly shared that donors are required to wait a period of one year before they can request any contact with marrow recipients. If desired, the program coordinator will then contact the recipient to determine whether he or she also desires contact. If so, a meeting is then arranged and if not, anonymity between the two is maintained. However, recipients, unlike donors, can request contact at any time though the same rule applies if the donor desires to keep his or her anonymity.

Asked if there was any advice he would like to offers his fellow Sailors in the fleet Kelly said, “If you have the opportunity [to save a life], take it - I mean if you can save someone’s life other than giving blood then you should. Look at your [own] family because it may be your mom or dad, you wife or your kids [who one day needs help].”

The National Marrow Donor Program reports more than 12,000 people are diagnosed with diseases that require an infusion of stem cells every year. More than half of those diagnosed are unable to find a suitable donor match within their own family. Therefore, those individuals must rely on the compassionate giving of a non-related donor, like Kelly, who is willing to step out and save a life.

To learn more about the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program, visit https://www.salutetolife.org.

The Center for Security Forces provides specialized training to more than 28,000 students each year. It has 14 training locations across the U.S. and around the world - Where Training Breeds Confidence.

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