Fort Jackson Officer Helps Stranger Live Another Day
Lt. Col. Martha Foss, Fort Jackson deputy staff judge advocate, undergoes her part of the week-long bone marrow donation procedure at Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore, Md., in November 2006.

FORT JACKSON, S.C. (Army News Service, Jan. 26, 2007) - A Fort Jackson officer believes divine intervention led her into the Army and inspired her to make another important decision in her life - to donate bone marrow.

In December, Lt. Col. Martha Foss, Fort Jackson deputy staff judge advocate, flew to Maryland to donate bone marrow to a matched recipient, who she won't ever meet.

"In law school, I went to a booth at an American Bar Association convention and got some information on becoming a bone marrow donor," Foss said. "I thought to myself 'Wow, this could be really scary,' but thought what an opportunity it would be. I figured I was healthy, so why not throw my hat in the ring'"

So, she registered with the National Marrow Donor Program, and after arriving at Fort Jackson in the summer of 2004, she switched to the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program.

Foss is a self-described "hand raiser" and said her mother has always encouraged her to perform what she considers civic duties, such as voting. Giving bone marrow isn't exactly like placing a ballot, but relatively new technologies have led to an alternate process that is less invasive than the traditional method of extracting marrow with a syringe from the back of the pelvic bone.

Now, after receiving injections of filgrastim, a synthetic hormone, for four days prior to the actual procedure, a donor's blood is then removed through a sterile needle in one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood stem cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through the other arm.

"The cell you're looking for in the transplant is the same cell, whether it's obtained from the bone marrow or from the blood," said Dr. Robert Hartzman, director, C. W. Bill Young DoD Marrow Donor Program, Naval Medical Research Center. "You can increase the number of those cells by giving filgrastim, and collect it using the same kinds of procedures you would use to collect platelets for a standard transfusion using phereses."

Once a person is in the database, marrow transplant medical teams worldwide can search the database to determine if a potential donor's human leukocyte antigen type matches the HLA type of a patient in need of a transplant.

In 2006, Foss was deemed a potential match and received a call from a donor coordinator in Rockville, Md. Foss then went to Moncrief Army Community Hospital, where she underwent further testing. She was told there was a 10 percent chance she would be somebody's match.

"I kind of thought, 'big deal, I've been through this several times before,'" Foss said. "Then (the donor coordinator) called again and asked me if I was ready to be a bone marrow donor. Once she called, it all happened pretty quickly."

Foss flew to Baltimore, Md., in November for a physical examination and yet more blood work, to ensure she was a healthy candidate for donation.

About two weeks later, after it was determined she was a match, Foss, along with her mother, was on her way to the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center in Baltimore, one of three sites where the procedure is performed.

"I didn't know if this was the ideal time to go and do this, but you don't get to choose when you have the opportunity to save someone's life," she said. "My command was extremely supportive. And this was around the Christmas holidays. What better gift could I give a person - whatever their religious persuasion is or isn't - besides a chance at life'"

Every day for nearly a week, Foss received filgrastim injections that left her feeling achy and tired, but otherwise fine.

Foss doesn't have much personal information about the person she donated to - he is 62 years old and has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer that attacks the body's lymphatic system. And, this could be his last chance for survival.

Recently, just minutes before embarking on a 16-mile run she had admittedly been putting off, Foss received a bit of news that that put a little pep in her step.

"My recipient has gone home," she said, teary-eyed and excited. "He's out of the hospital."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16