When Capt. Brent Johnson, 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, first signed up to potentially donate bone marrow in 2004 as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., he didn’t realize he would be helping save the lives of two people he had never met.
On April 29, Johnson gave his second donation of bone marrow at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., to help save the life of an older Norwegian man who had been diagnosed with acute leukemia.
Johnson’s first donation was in 2011 to a 14-year-old Swedish boy, who had been diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia, which left him with little to no red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets.
Johnson has received periodic updates about the Swedish boy after his donation.
“He was hospitalized, but because of my donation, he’s able to go out and do limited kid activities,” Johnson said. “After the surgery, I was just sore. I felt old and moved slow, but each day it gets progressively better.”
“But it’s worth it. It’s such a great feeling to know I’ve helped two people in the world and given them more time to spend with their families,” he said.
Kathryn Branstad, C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program donor quality coordinator, said the possibility of matching a donor with a recipient is not common.
“Donating once is pretty uncommon — twice is quite rare,” Branstad said. “Most people on the donor list will never match to anyone.”
Johnson said the bone marrow transplant procedure requires the donor to be a perfect match for the recipient. Once there is a suitable genetic match, the donation procedure takes the healthy bone marrow from one person and injects it into the unhealthy bone marrow of the other. The marrow remembers how to make healthy blood-forming cells in the new bone, creating new cells and platelets to help carry oxygen and fight infection.
Branstad said the program’s goal is to facilitate marrow and stem cell donations to fight against blood cancer and other fatal diseases. The program works exclusively with military personnel and their dependents.
Johnson is just one of many service members who have volunteered to be potential donors through the program, which has also been called the “Salute to Life.” He hopes to continue to save lives, both through his service and through his donations.
According to www.militaryblood.dod.mil, the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Blood Donor Center is a collection center for the Department of Defense’s C.W. Bill Young bone Marrow Program.
Registration for the program is quick and simple. A five-minute history and a simple cheek swab where DNA is collected from the mouth is all that is needed. The DNA is then typed and placed on a national database. The Department of Defense and the National Bone Marrow Program work in collaboration to increase the number of potential bone marrow donors.
Go to ww.dodmarrow.org for more information.