Fitting a rare health statistic usually isn't a good thing, but one St. Joseph man is an exception to that rule.
Braden Srock recently donated bone marrow and stem cells after being deemed a match for someone he doesn’t know. The connection came thanks to him joining the Be The Match Registry about six years ago, when he was in college.
“I never had been contacted until (last) November,” says Mr. Srock, who works as a production supervisor at Altec. “I kind of forgot about it.”
He adds that he was given extra credit in a physics class for putting his name on the registry, but he also was motivated by having had a cousin with leukemia. When he received word late last year that his bone marrow was a match for someone else with the disease, he didn’t hesitate to help.
According to Be The Match, which is affiliated with the National Marrow Donor Program, about 70 percent of leukemia or lymphoma patients in need of a transplant do not have a matching donor in their family. Since it began operations in 1987, Be The Match has facilitated more than 55,000 transplants for patients such as these.
One more statistic — the one Mr. Srock fits — is that one in every 540 members of the Be The Match Registry will go on to donate marrow or stem cells to a patient. But Mr. Srock is even more rare in that he donated both, making a stem cell donation last month after his bone marrow donation almost a year ago.
“In his case, the marrow donation he provided last year worked, but the cancer came back,” Julee Darner, donor services coordinator for the University of Iowa Marrow Donor Program, says. “The hope for stem cell donation this time is that there are more stem cells to fight cancer cells in this type of donation, so ideally the extra stem cells will destroy any remaining cancer cells.”
She adds that only about 10 percent or fewer of those who donate are asked to donate again for the same patient. Donors and recipients are kept anonymous to each other for a year after the most recent donation, so Mr. Srock doesn’t know who he’s aiming to help. But the possibility that the patient could be a child has made him more than willing both times.
“It kind of hit home for me, because my wife and I just had a baby girl,” he says. “I feel blessed to have a healthy daughter, and … I just felt like I should do anything I could to help.”
He adds that he’s been asked which donation process he preferred: the bone marrow or the stem cells. While he found there to be good and bad about both, donating bone marrow was easier in that he didn’t need to go through any preparation ahead of time and was put under general anesthesia for the procedure, which involved drawing marrow from his spine and hip.
This left him sore for a couple of days afterward, but the discomfort was nothing like what he went through with the injections he had to take for five days before donating stem cells. The injections served to accelerate production of the cells and, as a side effect, produced symptoms he describes as “like the worst flu” he’d ever had.
But harvesting the stem cells was a less invasive process that didn’t require anesthesia. He was connected to a machine that drew his blood and separated out its components, keeping what was needed for donation and returning everything else to his body.
Ms. Darner notes that anyone who wants to join the bone marrow registry can do so at www.bethematch.org; after filling out a form, potential donors will receive a kit for collecting a swab of cheek cells to return. Donors between the ages of 18 and 44 are especially needed, as are minority donors. Currently, 67 percent of those in the database are Caucasian — and because tissue type is strongly tied to genetic heritage, this lack of non-Caucasian potential donors means minorities in need of a transplant have a much lower chance of finding a donor who is a good match.
When a potential donor is selected, he or she goes through further testing to ensure the donation will be safe for the recipient. Mr. Srock underwent these secondary tests at Heartland Regional Medical Center before both of his donations, then traveled to Iowa City for each donation.
Obviously, nothing much about this process was simple. And Mr. Srock may not know for a while the outcome of his second donation or who is on the receiving end – but he doesn’t doubt that he made the right decision.
“I was going to follow through with it no matter what,” he says. “It’s out of my hands now, but I’m hoping for the best.”