If you could be a hero, would you be? We’re not talking about having super powers or wearing spandex, we’re talking about saving a life based solely on your unique genetic make-up. It’s a simple question really. Would you, if you could, be a hero? Would you save a life?
When I was an adolescent in middle school, having the summers off school was the best. Budding hunter-gathers, a group of my friends and I spent every waking moment during those sunny months at Sand Lake. With our parents at work most of our time was spent digging for worms and fishing for pan fish. On those really hot, Northern Michigan days we would swim to cool off. Sand lake is one of these great public beaches where anyone can enjoy the water, but no lifeguard is ever present, the local community simply couldn’t afford the staff. Instead, they purchased ‘No lifeguard on duty: swim at your own risk’ signs.
By now you can see where this story is headed. It was a Saturday in August, high noon; it must have been 1994’ or 1995.’ A close friend of mine, Wayne, was the first to hit the water after we ate our customary pre-packed lunches (high-carb PB&J or Bologna on white bread is all we knew back then). He swam out to and then past the buoys as we had done one hundred times before. ‘Then it hit me,’ is how he tells the story, ‘my stomach cramped up and I couldn’t breathe, let alone stay afloat!’ He adds, ‘all those stories my Mom told me about not swimming after you eat, I thought where old wives’ tales, but in that moment I knew how very wrong I was.’
From the beach we heard the faintest mumble, as we turned we saw him splash and disappear, emerge, and disappeared again! Before anyone could move my sandwich hit the dirt. I ran the 40 yard sprint to the water’s edge and swam the 70 yards past the buoy faster than I may ever again. He was gone! I dove beneath the water’s surface…Wayne wasn’t there! I dove again…longer this time…deeper beneath the murky water I dove…my lungs burned, I couldn’t find him…I couldn’t give up…I dove to the weed bed…as the weeds wrapped around my arms and neck panic set in…my blood oxygen levels dropped…I couldn’t see…I couldn’t save him…I lost my friend…I felt helpless.
Something brushed my abdomen! It was flesh…human…an arm…it was Wayne! Unconscious and water logged I pulled him from the lake bed to the shore. I dropped him in the sand and his bluing body coughed. He coughed and coughed and caught a breath. Everyone was elated and cheered, we embraced, it was all he could do to muster the words, I love you man.’
It’s on rare occasion I tell this story. Sitting here, reliving the events of that day is still an emotional undertaking. Defining moments in a person’s life are rare at best. My first came when I was a twelve years old. Intentions, faith, and hope alone are all delayed disappointment when compared to action. ‘Thought without action is empty’ – Immanuel Kant.
My son was 22 weeks as of this Tuesday. Recently I joined ‘Be The Match’ (see link below), where everyday people can be heroes. When I look at my son and I hear him giggle I realize that there are so many disorders that are treatable through bone marrow transplants, the science is good, and donor matches are what we’re lacking. I realize that ailments aren’t just things that happen to ‘other people.’ Although he is perfectly healthy, I picture my son, and I challenge you to picture a little boy or girl who was born with a metabolic disorder, or an inherited immune system disorder, or bone marrow disease, or sickle-cell anemia, or leukemia, or lymphoma: Picture this sick child, weak but full of smiles, their family feeling helpless, swimming in the weeds of despair. Now picture that this child is yours, or your niece or nephew, or your best friend. There are treatments available, there is a donor match out there…they just haven’t sign up for the registry yet! Picture this child and ask yourself; are you going to rest on your good intentions, your faith, or hope, or will you answer the call to action.
When you sign up with ‘Be The Match’ registry you take a pledge to help any patient in need; to tell family and friends; and take the time to donate so you can save a life when the call comes in. In telling my story and writing this blog I own up to half of this pledge in hopes that one day I can once again save a life.
‘Seven out of 10 patients do not have a matching donor in their family. So their doctor will turn to ‘Be The Match’ for help finding an unrelated donor or cord blood unit on the Be The Match Registry. More people are needed to join the registry so patients have a greater chance of finding a match. Joining the registry is the first step to become a bone marrow donor.