Fort Meade officer donates bone marrow, helps save a life
December 1, 2011
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- During the holidays, people all over the country spend time with family, eating, watching football and enjoying the opportunity to reflect and give back.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. John T. Schofield, an instructor and Navy Element Commander at the Defense Information School, is doing much the same thing, save one difference. Three days before Thanksgiving, Schofield was in a hospital undergoing a procedure to extract his bone marrow to save someone else's life.
That someone is a seriously ill 57-year-old woman who may die without Schofield's donation.
While the procedure itself is usually no more than two hours, the path to the hospital bed started more than two years ago for the 15-year veteran.
In July 2009, Schofield was stationed aboard the Navy's newest aircraft carrier, USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). Schofield was asked by the ship's senior medical officer to market a marrow-donor registration drive for the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program.
The goal was to add to the more than 622,000 people already in the system. A regular donor of blood and platelets, Schofield was not only willing to help publicize the event, he also registered. Nearly three years and two moves later, Schofield got the call he never expected.
"They called me early last month and told me I had been identified as a potential match for someone in need of a bone marrow donation," he said.
Until that call, Schofield said, he had completely forgotten he had registered in the system. But that did not change his willingness to give.
"From the second I received that call two and a half months ago until this very moment, it has been hard for me to think of anything else," the Salt Lake City native said.
Schofield said donating a part of himself to someone for a lifesaving procedure is one of the most meaningful things he has done. He knew from the moment he got that phone call he wanted to donate. His only fear was not being able to. This fear followed him throughout the next couple of phases of the process.
Being matched in the database does not guarantee a donor's marrow will work, said Schofield. It takes several more tests before the donor is identified as both physically and medically capable of donating.
Just getting a preliminary match to a nonrelative is a one-in-a-million chance, said Schofield. It was still a one-in-a-hundred chance he would actually be able to donate.
After all the follow-up tests, Schofield got the news he hoped for -- the donation was a go.
From the time he got the first phone call to the time he went into the operating room, a little more than a month had passed. That didn't give Schofield much time to worry, which he said he didn't do a lot of. His wife and children were a different story.
Susan Schofield, who is also on the registry, was concerned at first because she wasn't really sure what was involved, she said. But her husband put her at ease with his assurances that the surgery was not dangerous and he would be fine.
His wife's fears calmed, it was time to focus on the children. At ages 3, 5 and 7, the boys were not particularly aware of what was taking place, said Schofield.
"The only question they really had was, 'Will it hurt?' " Schofield said. "Once I assured them it wouldn't, they were fine."
In addition to easing their concerns, Schofield used the opportunity to teach his children that it is important to help out those in need.
"I feel that this transplant sets a good example for my kids in that I want them to see at a very early age that kindness and service are very good things," he said. "It doesn't take a lot of work. Sometimes, just being available and being willing are all it takes to save someone's life."
That lesson, and motivating people to do their part, is why Schofield volunteered for the registry.
Now that he is out of the hospital, he said he was humbled by all the appreciation he received from the doctors and nurses following the surgery. But as much as he appreciated it, it was not necessary.
This 57-year-old patient needed his marrow for a chance at life. There never really was a choice for him, he said.
"The act of being a donor doesn't seem to me that it's something you should be thanked for," he said. "It is something you should do."
Post-surgery, Schofield's goal is to raise awareness for the marrow-donor program. "The process is so simple," he said. "It took mere minutes to register. There is nothing about this that was difficult."
As far as the pain, Schofield, who spent one night in the hospital, said it was minimal. "At its worst, the pain was no more than what I would have after a day spent raking leaves," he said.
The average recovery time is approximately two weeks, but he said he is able to do pretty much everything he could do before the surgery.
He added that he hopes more people come forward to volunteer their marrow. The experience has impacted him profoundly, he said.
"When you break it down, you are availing yourself to someone for a lifesaving procedure," he said. "I really don't think I'll have that opportunity to do something that special again."
For her part, Susan Schofield said the experience has motivated her to be a donor. She was already on the registry, but after experiencing the process through her husband, she hopes to get the same call. (Her aunt was a marrow donor recipient, but they were never able to find a complete match.) She hopes to be that complete match for someone else, she said.
Now, as he continues to recover, and follow through with his Thanksgiving plans to participate in a 5K run/walk, cook and deliver a turkey to junior service members and enjoy time with family, Schofield has something else to be thankful for. That his marrow is giving someone else the opportunity to do the same.
For more information on the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program or to request a registry recruiting trip, visit http://www.dodmarrow.org.