Friday, June 15, 2012

“Simple procedure” gives life, says Abby Johnson

Abby Johnson
By Alannah Allbrett
Abby Johnson, a young Clarkston woman of 26, went to play basketball in Azusa, California with her teammates in 2007. Members of the team were asked to register as bone marrow donors in honor of the daughter of a league coach who died of leukemia.

Abby said that several members of her team registered with Be The Match (BTM), part of the National Marrow Donor Organization. BTM co-ordinates bone marrow donations for cancer patients around the world.

The initial step, to determine if one is a potential donor, is to get a cheek swab test; Abby completed the test while still in Azusa. The organization enters one’s name into a registry for their lifetime. There is only a one in a million chance of being a close enough match to provide bone marrow for someone else, however.

BTM has regional representatives that contact a person if it is determined they might be a match. Abby was contacted for further testing to see if she were a match for a 26 year old male in Europe. Names of participants are held confidential. And, due to the regulations in the country this man lives in, Abby will never learn his name. She will remain an anonymous donor.

The program is completely voluntary, and Abby was asked if she wanted to take the next step of having blood samples drawn. She agreed and went to St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston to have blood work done.

Abby was told that she was a match, but that the patient was not yet ready to receive her bone marrow. Abby believes doctors submit a patient’s information, in advance of needing the treatment. In the event that the patient does need bone marrow, a donor may be found in time.

It was almost a year, since Abby began the process, that she heard the patient was ready for a transplant. She flew to Denver, Colorado to complete it.

Typically, there are two types of procedures for collecting bone marrow. It may be drawn from a donor’s hip, as is often seen in movies or television. But a newer, simpler technique was used on Abby called aphresis.

To prepare her body to donate the bone marrow, she was given injections of a medicine called filgrastim that would make her body produce more bone marrow stem cells. The injections took place once a day, for five days.

When the donor is ready, doctors draw blood from one arm, which is processed then by a machine that separates platelets, bone marrow stem cells, and white blood cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor into their other arm.

Normally, this procedure takes about four to five hours. The patient, to whom the donation was going however, was a man twice Abby’s body weight, so Abby had to have the procedure repeated for another two hours the following day.

When asked if she was scared before having the procedure, Abby said “No,” but that she was a little nervous about it. She had to undergo several physicals to make sure she was healthy enough for the process and that her body could handle it.

Overall, Abby said it was a very worthwhile and that she is glad she became a donor. Abby will only hear about the patient’s results after six months have passed, and then she will hear another report in one year’s time.

“It’s a pretty simple procedure for what it does,” said Abby. “If I were in that position, I would like someone to step-up to do what I did.”

For people interested in becoming bone marrow donors to save another life, they may find information at the National Marrow Donor’s website: Abby Johnson is a basketball coach at Asotin High School who is working on her teaching credentials. She is the daughter of Kathy and Guy Johnson of Clarkston, owners of Guy’s Outdoor Equipment.

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