How would you like to save a life by simply lifting a finger? I did about 25 years ago, and I am writing about it because a friend of mine is dying.
In the late ’80s, I let a nurse prick my finger and use the resulting blood drop to enter me into the national bone marrow registry. A co-worker had asked me to do this in the hope that someone might match with a friend dying of leukemia who needed a bone marrow transplant. His friend died, but I matched with someone else a few years later.
My friend Carl Fox, a well-known North Carolina judge and former prosecutor, recently began a social media campaign asking people to register their bone marrow. Carl has been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome and will die if a match is not found. His chances of finding a match are not good because he is African-American and relatively few African-Americans belong to the bone marrow registry.
Registering your bone marrow is like entering a lottery where the prize is that you might save someone’s life. The odds of your matching with someone are small, but the prize if you win is huge. How often do we struggle to make a difference in someone else’s life? If you match and donate, you give someone who is dying a chance to live. That is a prize that you both share.
Every Christmas there is one card I particularly look forward to reading. It is from the man I donated my bone marrow to in 1991. (Donations are anonymous unless both donor and recipient agree to exchange identifying information, and we both did.) For 24 years I have enjoyed reading about him, his wife and his son. He seems to live life to the fullest. He likes motorcycles, and last summer he toured South Pacific World War II battlefields.
I enjoy his card so much because, when I read it, my troubles shrink and my joys grow. On that day, I always look at my wife, my sons and my daughter and think about everything that we have shared in the past year. I feel grateful. I gave my marrow recipient life when I gave some of my bone marrow to him, but he gives me life every time he sends me that card.
Registering today requires not even a finger prick but a cheek squab. If you do match, the donation process is relatively painless. When I donated, they withdrew marrow with a needle, but today they can usually extract the marrow from your blood through an IV.
Like all lotteries, the odds that you will match and have to donate are small, but if you register and tell your friends about it and they tell their friends and so on, the odds are pretty good that one of you will someday get a chance to save a life.
I hope my friend finds a donor and lives. Even if no one matches him, Carl Fox probably will end up saving someone else’s life because, if enough people heed his call to register their bone marrow, someone will match with another patient somewhere else, just like I did almost 25 years ago. If you register, it might be you.
Joseph E. Kennedy is a professor of law at the University of North Carolina School of Law where he teaches criminal law and criminal procedure.
‘Save the Fox’
A bone marrow donor drive will be held from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at University Place (formerly University Mall), 201 S. Estes Drive in Chapel Hill. Find more information about bone-marrow donation – and a link for registering by mail – at nando.com/1dg. For more about Carl Fox, go to matchfox.org/