My Name is Kenny: This is My Story
Last week I spoke to eighty camp counselors at a camp in Zionsville, Indiana. I told them my story of what it was like to be a bone marrow donor. My name is Kenny, and now I want to tell you my story.
The summer after I graduated high school I went on a birthright trip to Israel. During the trip, my group sat down with representatives from Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation. They told us that 99% of us would never hear from them again. I got this feeling that this wouldn't be true for me. 99% of the people that join the registry will never hear from Gift of Life after they get their cheeks swabbed. But for the 1% that will be called upon, it will change you as a person forever. I swabbed the inside of my cheeks, and went on with the trip and my life, forgetting all about it. That was until 6 months later...
Midway through my freshman year of college, I got a call that I was a potential match for somebody in need of a transplant and was asked to undergo further testing. This was when I really started to get excited about the possibility of donating; how often is it that one gets the chance to save somebody’s life. I was hoping that if I was chosen, maybe donating my marrow would give me some epiphany about life. I was a little afraid but knew that I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I passed up the opportunity out of fear of the unknown.
So I went to the health center where a sample of my blood was taken and sent in for further testing. Sometime after that, I received a call that I had in fact been found as a match for a four year old boy. I was ecstatic to say the least, but sad to hear that this boy was in the hospital because of a deficiency that made his immune system produce bad bone marrow. I asked if I would be able to meet the boy and was told that legally donors have to remain anonymous to their recipients for at least the first year after their donation. But, I was allowed to write his family anonymously.
Gift of Life sent me to Baltimore, were I would undergo the procedure. I stayed at a hotel across from the hospital that Tuesday night. My parents were unable to come with me due to work conflicts that week, so I flew to Baltimore by myself; a little scared, but equally excited.
I was excited to do something that I knew would give my life a sense of meaning, and was hoping to get some good karma out of it and maybe have that epiphany. During my time in Baltimore, a super nice lady from the foundation met me at the hotel and served as my guide for the whole process. She took me to the hospital, where I filled out a lot of paperwork and went through one last round of tests the morning of the procedure.
During the procedure both my arms had needles inserted into them, one big one and one small one in my right arm, which I was still able to use during the five hours. I was given a choice of movies to watch during the time I was in the apheresis room and chose one of my favorite movies ever; The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, which conveniently was four and a half hours long. It was surreal sitting there in this bed, a little uncomfortable because I couldn’t move one of my arms, and watching one of my favorite movies ever while donating my stem cells.
Five hours later, after the ring of power had been destroyed, and my blood had been put back into my body, I was able to get out of bed. It felt good having finished my collection; there was a certain satisfaction knowing that I had just helped save this boy’s life. Despite this happiness though, the full realization of what I had done hadn’t hit me yet.
By the time I made it back to my apartment in Indiana, I felt back to normal. Every couple of months, somebody from Gift of Life would call me and ask how I was doing to make sure that I was feeling good. Every so often they gave me updates on my recipient too. I was told that he was doing well, and had been able to leave the hospital for the first time in years and spend time at home like regular child.
I decided that after a year I would write the parents when I didn’t have to be anonymous and would ask for a picture of the boy. I wanted a picture as closure; to know that what I had done was real and to be able to put a face to this boy. More time passed and pretty soon the year was almost up. Right before the end of the year, I learned the boy has passed away. I knew that I had given this child an opportunity to live a normal life, even if only for a short period time and that the merit of this cannot be measured. It’s kind of like the old Yiddish saying at the end of Schindler’s List, “Whoever saves one life saves the entire world.” So now I ask you to help give hope to others. Think about joining the bone marrow registry - you could be the one that could give someone a second chance.