Seabee Donates Stem Cells to Save a Life

By MC1 Jonathan Carmichael

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HM1 Gerald Jackson of the Naval Branch Health Clinic administers a Filgrastim shot to SW2 Andrew King, NMCB 11, on board NCBC Gulfport. The shot is a synthetic hormone designed to increase the number of blood stem cells in his bloodstream. King is a 100 percent match for a patient with a blood disease.  King will donate peripheral blood stem cells from his circulating blood.  A surgical outpatient procedure will take place at a hospital in Washington, D.C.  For more information about the bone marrow donor program, visit www.dodmarrow.org. Photo by UTCN Alicia Fluty

GULFPORT, Miss. – A Navy Seabee is scheduled to undergo a stem cell donation procedure at Georgetown University Hospital this week that may save the life of a patient diagnosed with a life-threatening blood disease.

SW2 Andrew M. King, NMCB 11, was identified as a 100 percent match for a specific patient in need of a marrow transplant two weeks ago.  He is scheduled to make a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation, a process that, King was told, will take up to four hours.

The patient’s identity is protected under federal confidentiality laws.

King, a 24 year old native of Lindstrom, Minn., was completing Navy boot camp when he became a volunteer marrow donor in 2009 through the C. W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program.

“A lot of people volunteered,” said King.  “They took a few cheek swabs, and that was it.  It was pretty easy.”

Two months ago King received a call informing him that he was a preliminary match, meaning he had about a one in ten chance of being an acceptable match, but further testing was required to which King consented.  Six weeks later he got the call.

“I was very surprised,” said King.  “Not only was I an acceptable match, I was a 100 percent perfect match!”

King agreed to donate, and the process was set in motion.  He was flown from his battalion’s homeport, Gulfport, Miss., to Washington D.C. for a physical examination and further health testing, and a date was scheduled to collect stem cells from King’s circulating blood.

According to the program’s website, http://www.dodmarrow.org/, there are two types of donation procedures; bone marrow and PBSC.  The transplant center requested that blood stem cells be collected from King’s circulating blood rather than from his bone marrow thus determining the PBSC donation.

King began receiving daily injections of a synthetic hormone to increase the number of blood stem cells in his bloodstream four days prior to his scheduled donation procedure.  His fifth injection will take place the day of the collection.  King’s blood will pass through a machine that separates out the blood stem cells before returning back to his body.

Doctors told King that the injections might cause body aches or headaches leading up to the collection, but the effects should subside shortly after the donation is complete.

Due to confidentiality laws, neither the donor nor the patient is informed of one another’s identity.  King was told only that the patient has a blood cancer and that his donation can potentially save the patient’s life.

“They said I will receive a call a year after the donation, and I can decide then if I want to know the identity of the patient and if I want the patient to know who I am,” said King, who isn’t ready to make that decision yet.

King will forgo the overnight hospital stay that is usually associated with a PBSC collection in favor of getting back to his family and his job.  “I told them that wouldn’t be necessary.  If I need rest, I’ll sleep on the flight home,” said King, who also made reference to NMCB 11’s upcoming deployment as a reason to hurry home.

Members who register with the C. W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program are also registered with the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP).

NMCB 11 is a Seabee battalion specializing in contingency construction, disaster response, and humanitarian assistance. The battalion’s homeport is in Gulfport, Miss.

Read more  Seabee stories here.

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