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Bone marrow registration drive provides service members with the opportunity to save a life

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Bradly A. Schneider
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

The thought of donating bone marrow sounds scary to most people, and if you listen to many of the stories, it sounds painful too. In reality, for the small percentage of people on the registry who are actually matched to a recipient and called to donate, it is very likely a bit of both. However, that’s not what the volunteers and donors involved in the most recent bone marrow donor drive, held at Al Udeid Air Base from May 15 – 19, 2017, were thinking about. For them, the opportunity of providing hope or ultimately saving a life far outweighed any apprehension or fear of pain.  

“We all wear this uniform every day and we are willing to take a bullet for each other…why wouldn’t I go through a little bit of pain if I could save your life?”, is the response you get when you ask Senior Airman Juliana Schroeder, air traffic controller assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron, what she thinks about being called to donate her bone marrow. For Schroeder, it’s personal. She decided long ago to add her name to the list of donors after watching her little brother Joel suffer from a rare blood disease. Shroeder and her family were informed after various types of treatments including chemotherapy that Joel’s last real hope for survival was to undergo a bone marrow transplant. Ever since that moment, Schroeder has been a vocal supporter and advocate for the bone marrow donation registry.


Capt. Jessica White, deputy chief of current operations assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron can attest to the power of a personal story and how it can affect a potential donor’s decision. White noted while registering to become a donor that she had passed up opportunities to register before, but was touched by the story Schroeder shared with her about her brother Joel, “You are the reason why I decided to sign up,” she told her. 


According to the National Marrow Donor Program, more than 12,000 people are diagnosed with diseases requiring an infusion of blood-produced stem cells and over 70% of those diagnosed are unable to receive those stem cells from a family member. One of the 293 new donors that signed up as part of the donor drive at Al Udeid Air Base could be presented with the opportunity to give someone else the chance of living a healthy, normal life.


“If I can help save a life, hey, why not?” said newly registered donor Staff Sgt. Klarence Dee Garrison, finance clerk assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Communications Group. 


Donors registered in support of, a military focused bone marrow donor registry that includes U.S. military members, their families, and DoD civilian employees between the ages of 18 and 60. Salute To Life donors are then added to the National Marrow Donor Registry which includes donors from more than 50 nations.


“For me, I put myself in the position of, what if it was one of my family members who needed it,” said Senior MSgt. Albert Raymond, first sergeant assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron.


If a registered donor is matched with a recipient, they will donate through one of two methods based on the needs of the recipient. Bone Marrow Donation is the traditional method where marrow is removed from the hip using a needle. This procedure is conducted while the patient is under anesthesia and may lead to discomfort in the hips and lower back. The second method, which is becoming the more prominent form of donation, is Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) Donation. This method requires the donor to receive several doses of a medication and ultimately the stem cells are collected using apheresis. The process is described as being similar to giving plasma and may leave the donor with flue like symptoms. According to Salute To Life, regardless of the donation method, most donors completely recover from all side effects, if any, within two weeks of the donation.


“The big deal is trying to increase registry,” explained Technical Sgt. Nelson Gutierrez, non-commissioned officer in charge of anti-terrorism/intelligence, 379th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, and coordinator of the bone marrow donation drive this May. When asked about what motivated him to organize the bone marrow donor drive at Al Udeid Air Base he said, “We are all here, we are deployed and we’re proving that we are willing to put our life on the line, why not (donate).” He noted that he also sees the diversity of the base-wide population as an excellent opportunity to increase the diversity of the bone marrow donor pool.


If you find yourself contemplating whether or not to become a bone marrow donor in the future and you run across TSgt. Gutierrez he will likely tell you about his friend who was called to donate. Gutierrez recalls what was said to him this way, “Hey, it hurt, but it’s a different feeling when you’re there, and you know someone is in a room somewhere down the hall possibly going to die if you don’t finish out your process”.  


As a result of the May registration drive, 293 bone marrow donors have been added to the bone marrow donor pool.


“Giving someone else some hope and a second chance at life, that’s definitely what our goal is," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Barba, cyber transport craftsman assigned to the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron. To the recipient of a bone marrow transplant and their loved ones, the selflessness and hope Barba talks about is exactly what they need.