Christmas comes early: Fort Bragg bone marrow donor saves a life
December 15, 2011
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - The holiday season is traditionally known as a time for hope, grace, and reflection. But this year Christmas came early for one 30-year old American woman.
It came in the form of a life-saving bone marrow transplant designed to help the recipient fight common variable immunodeficiency, a dangerous condition characterized by frequent infections. Although the identity of the recipient remains confidential, the donor is one of Fort Bragg's own.
In 2006, then Army Cadet Jessica Meyer, was in training at the Leaders Development
Assessment Course in Fort Lewis, Wash., preparing to receive her commission as an officer.
During a brigade blood drive Meyer signed up to participate in the Department of Defense Bone Marrow Program. She had the inside of her cheek swabbed and thought no more of it. The odds of being a suitable match to anyone was only 30 percent.
"I thought to myself, 'It's never going to happen that I will be a match'," said Meyer
After receiving her commission as a second lieutenant, Meyer met her husband, 2nd Lt. Alex Meyer in the Officer's Basic Course and they were married in 2007.
They both reported to Schweinfurt, Germany and Meyer's first duty assignment was with the 172nd Infantry Brigade. While in Germany, she became pregnant with her son who was born there in 2008.
Meyer stayed in Germany until 2009 when she deployed with the 172nd to Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Iraq.
Meyer left Germany in 2010, she did some training at Fort Lee, Va. and received orders to Fort Bragg. During this time, she was also promoted to captain.
While on leave visiting Family in Portland, Ore., she got a call from the DoD Bone Marrow Program while doing dishes.
At first, Meyer said she thought it was a prank call. She said she felt as though she'd lived at least two lifetimes between donating the initial swab and receiving the phone call informing her she was a match. Yet, never being one to shy away from a commitment, she decided to proceed.
Meyer agreed to a battery of medical tests designed to determine if she was strong enough to undergo marrow donation. After weeks of blood-work and consults, she was still a perfect match, much to the chagrin of her worried husband.
"As much as I was scared and my husband was scared," said Meyer, "How do you not do it? How do you say, 'Because I'm afraid of anesthesia and I don't do well with pain medication, I can go on living while someone else dies?"
Meyer was thoroughly counseled concerning the procedure and the difficulties donors typically face during recovery.
Meyer's bone marrow harvest took place on Oct. 7, in an operating room at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.
She was anesthesized and the surgeons used two, eight-inch syringes to harvest 1,200 milliliters of bone marrow from her hip and lower back, about ¾ the volume it takes to fill a blender. Meyer had to spend three more days in the hospital before being released.
The process of donating was especially arduous for Meyer due to the thickness of her bones causing the surgeons to spend extra time retrieving her marrow.
Since returning from Washington, the road back from marrow donation has not been without difficulties.
For two months, Meyer has wrestled with anemia, fainting spells, chronic pain and fatigue, and extreme difficulty getting around -- all while keeping up with her toddler.
When asked how she feels about donating bone marrow, her answer is similar to a quote found on the DoD Bone Marrow Program website, "It makes sense that Soldiers should donate. If anybody can recover from it, it's us."
To which she adds, "I'm no hero, I just believe in doing good things,"-- a sentiment fit for the season.