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Branch manager gives stranger a chance at life
GREENSBORO, N.C. (9/7/11)--Linda Spain, a branch manager at Lorillard FCU, Greensboro, N.C., is anxiously awaiting a phone call. Spain will soon learn if the bone marrow she recently donated to a stranger has been accepted by the grateful recipient’s body.
Linda Spain, a branch manager at Lorillard FCU, Greensboro, N.C., donated bone marrow in early August. She is anxiously waiting to learn to the status of her recipient. (Photo provided by the North Carolina Credit Union League)
“About all I know is he is a 39-year-old man living in the U.S.,” Spain told the North Carolina Credit Union League in discussing her donation of peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC). She donated some 10 million units of PBSC on Aug. 1 and 2, quite a bit more than is usually taken. “They told me he was probably a really big guy,” Spain explained. “So I imagine he’s a weightlifter or a former football player or something like that.” While Spain may never know who the recipient of her gift is, she does know that her donation has given the man his best hope of successfully fighting a particularly deadly form of cancer: Acute Myelogenous Leukemia or AML. AML is a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow in which the white blood cells do not form fully and therefore cannot fight infections, according to the Be the Match website. Spain first learned about the Bone Marrow Registry in 1997, when a high school classmate of her daughter’s developed leukemia. “They had a blood drive at the school and they were screening people there, so that’s when I first joined,” Spain said. She had received two screening phone calls in the past, “but it never went any further than that.” But this time, “they wanted me to come in for confirmatory testing,” she said. Conducted at the end of June, the blood tests confirmed that she was the best possible match. “I was so happy I would able to help somebody,” she said. Spain received a DVD outlining how the donation procedure works and the risks, which include pain, and more serious side effects such as bleeding of the spleen. “A lot of people back out when they hear about the risks,” Spain said, “and my boyfriend wanted me to back out.” But Spain never gave a thought to changing her mind. At Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center (WFUBMC) in Winston-Salem a few days before her donation, Spain received an injection of filgrastim, which increases the production of white blood cells. The surge in white blood cells increased the pressure within Spain’s bones, leading to a few days of pain. But Spain fought through the pain until donation day. Her blood pressure also spiked, but medication brought it back down to safe levels. Spain administered subsequent injections of filgrastim at home for three days. She then returned to WFUBMC for a final filgrastim shot, and--two months after the initial phone call, it was time for Spain to donate PBSC. Spain received needle sticks in each arm, and a cell separator machine pulled blood out of one arm and cycled it back into the other. The machine spins the blood at high speeds, which separates it, allowing the machine to collect blood-forming cells, platelets and some white blood cells. The remaining plasma and red blood cells were then pumped back into Spain’s body in the other arm. During the five-hour process, Spain could not get up or move for any reason. “My nose itched right after it started,” Spain said. Luckily a dutiful volunteer was on hand to help out. Due to the physical size of the recipient, Spain returned to WFUBMC a second day for another five hours with the cell-separator machine. Other than feeling tired for a day or two and the the bone pain, there were no complications or side effects. After one day at home to rest and regroup, Spain was back at work. An avid motorcycle rider, Spain shows the world a tough exterior. But her commitment--and the risk she took--for a total stranger, belies a caring individual underneath it all. “This is somebody’s brother or father or son,” Spain said. “I would want someone to do it for me.” Spain’s phone call will let her know if the transplant was successful and how the patient is responding. If he continues to progress and stays cancer-free, there is a chance they will one day get to meet in person. “But that’s probably a year or two away from happening,” Spain said, “because they have to make absolutely sure.” The phone call comes with no guarantees of a happy outcome. “I keep telling myself I’ve done everything I can do.” Registry participants are able to donate twice in their lifetime. Spain says no matter what happens with her mystery recipient, she is willing to donate one more time if called upon. “I’ll do it again in a heartbeat,” she says.


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