An Interview with a Bone Marrow Donor – Alexis Wismer

14 Aug

I am absolutely thrilled to be able to share this interview with you today!  A sweet friend, Alexis Wismer, saved someone’s life less than two years ago!  She became a bone marrow donor and was kind enough to answer some questions for us about her experience.

Alexis is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, so it was no surprise to learn that she had been a donor.  The surprising part was learning about it after the fact because she kept it so quiet as to not draw attention to herself.  :)

This is Alexis with two of her very special little friends, Drew and Tess.

Have you ever wondered who needs bone marrow donations?  Patients with blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma, sickle cell, or other life-threatening diseases such as PNH depend on bone marrow donors for life-saving gifts.  The donor needs to be a genetic match, which makes it challenging to find just the right match for each patient – making it all the more important to get as many people on the registry as possible.

At some point in my (hopefully distant) future, it’s possible, as a lymphoma patient,  I might need a bone marrow transplant.  My friend, Dolly’s daughter, Kellie, received a bone marrow transplant from her brother, Kevin five years ago – saving her life.

Bone marrow donation is a critical, life-saving gift that many are eligible to give.  The registration process is fairly simple, and as we’ll learn from Alexis, the donation process was not that difficult, either.  I hope this interview with Alexis will answer some of the questions you might have and motivate you to sign up to become a donor!

Thanks for taking the time to answer these important questions, Alexis!

R: Why did you decide to sign up for the bone marrow donor registry?

Alexis: I was in grad school at Georgia Tech and was spending a day shadowing an alumni of my program at the Children’s Hospital and they were running a bone marrow registry drive that day. We both signed up…

R: Was signing up difficult?  What did the process involve?

Alexis: It only took about 5-10 minutes. There was a little card to fill out with contact info and then the cheek swab. That’s it! (There is a even a mail order registry kit online http://marrow.org/Join/Join_Now/Join_Now.aspx)

R: How long were you on the registry before you received notification of a potential match?

Alexis: Probably 3-4 years

R: When were you notified of a potential match?

Alexis: February 2010.

R: Do you know anything about your recipient?  Have you ever met or talked to him/her?

Alexis: Other than knowing she is a female in her 60’s. (If I’m remembering correctly, she is out of the country which prohibits further information from being disclosed.)

R: Did you have to go through additional testing to determine if you were a good match for the recipient?  Can you explain what that involved?

Alexis: There were a few blood tests and a day of getting checked out by lots of different doctors, but they coordinate and handle all the details. You just show up. Since I had to travel to Emory in ATL, they even put me up in a hotel the night before since my appt was in the morning.

R: Once they determined you were a match, tell us about the process?  How long did it take?  What kind of pre-donation steps did you have to take?

Alexis: It moved pretty quickly once the first blood test confirmed I was a match. I had a full day of doctor’s appts and then a couple weeks later started the four days of injections to boost my bone marrow and then I spent a day in Atlanta for the actual procedure.

R: What was the actual marrow donation process like?  Can you explain to us how it works now as I think the process has changed through the years.

Alexis: They did not have to drill into my hip so it actually wasn’t very painful! They are now using peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation, which is non-surgical, in most cases. According to the bone marrow registry “There can be uncomfortable but short-lived side effects of donating PBSC. Due to taking a drug called filgrastim for five days leading up to donation, PBSC donors may have headaches, joint or muscle aches, or fatigue. PBSC donors are typically back to their normal routine in one to two days.”

I never had much pain leading up to it. You are hooked up to machine for about 4 hours where they take blood out of one arm, run it through a machine to separate out the stem cells and then put it back in your other arm. It started to get a little uncomfortable at the end with the big needles in your arms (and you obviously can’t move really). But I drove home from Atlanta that afternoon and was back at work the next morning.

R: Was the donation procedure painful?

Alexis: Not really. Just a little uncomfortable. :)

R: Do you hope to meet the person who received your donation?

Alexis: It would be nice, but I think given the restrictions with out of country donations, the chances of it actually happening are slim to none.

R: Would you do it again for this person or someone else, if necessary?

Alexis: Yes!

R: What would say to anyone considering signing up for the bone marrow registry?

Alexis: It takes about 5 minutes to just sign up and you never know whom you might be a match for. And even once you are match, they continually give you the option stop at any point in the process if you change your mind and don’t want to go through with the donation. They don’t pressure you at all.

The following shows a timeline of how things progressed once Alexis was notified she was a match thru the date of her donation:

February 1: Email (and I’m sure a phone call, too) notifying me that I was a potential match.
February 2: Health History & Consent Forms
February 8: Blood drawn
April 30: Email notifying me I am a match for the recipient
May 14: Physical Exam in Atlanta – lab, xrays, ekg
May 26: LabCorp
June 3: First Injection (in Atlanta)
June 4: Second Injection (at home)
June 5: Third Injection (at home)
June 6: Fourth Injection (at home)
June 7: Bone Marrow Donation

To learn more or sign up to be a bone marrow donor, visit The National Marrow Donor Program.

Promise me you’ll consider becoming a donor.  Be The One to Save a Life!
♥ Rachel

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3 Responses to “An Interview with a Bone Marrow Donor – Alexis Wismer”

  1. Facing Cancer (@cancer2gether) August 14, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    An excellent post and interview. I’ve often read the stories of patients waiting for bone marrow donations, and am certain that Alexis’ donation changed the world for that woman abroad. This article helps dispel the fear of drilling into the bones. Good job in sharing the process!

  2. Julie August 14, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Love this- thanks for sharing. I registered through Be The Match in April. Because my dad had a liver transplant, organ and tissue donation is near and dear to me. What a blessing- on both sides- to be a living donor! Very helpful info from Alexis.

    • rachturner August 15, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

      I didn’t know that about your dad, Julie! So glad you are on the registry.

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