Collecting a sample
Eric Moller (right), deputy fire chief, PTA, USAG-HI, swabs the inside of his cheek during the fire department's bone marrow drive, Jan. 26, while fellow PTA firefighter Robert Madrigal waits to collect the sample.

POHAKULOA TRAINING AREA, Hawaii -- The Fire Department, here, responds to fires, emergencies and calls for assistance year-round.

However, firefighters responded to a special call for assistance when they held a bone marrow registration drive, Jan. 26-27.

Robert Madrigal, PTA firefighter, said the idea for the drive came when the firefighters learned that an Oahu firefighter's niece has leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant.

"They can't find a match and it's hard to find matches," Madrigal said. "We thought we could hold a bone marrow registration drive that might find someone here who could help her or someone else in need."

By the end of the drive, firefighters had registered 46 donors, Madrigal said.

While most were civilian employees, about a half-dozen were Marines training at PTA.

Madrigal said that registering to be a donor is easy and painless.

"When I saw how easy and painless it was to register -- it's a simple swab; there's no needle -- it's worth it to save a life," he added.

PTA donors filled out a form and then rubbed four cotton swabs on the inside of their cheeks. The samples were sealed and sent with the form to the C.W. Bill Young/Department of Defense Marrow Donor Center in Washington D.C.

The bone marrow center tests the samples to determine the donor's tissue type and enters it into the DOD and National Marrow Donor Program Registry. Medical teams from the U.S. and other countries can search the registry for a potential match for a patient who needs a transplant.

If a sample is a match, the bone marrow center contacts the donor and asks if he or she wants to follow through and donate his or her marrow. The center's lab takes another blood sample to confirm the match and to test for infectious diseases. If the sample is a match and the infectious disease testing is acceptable, the center requests the person as a match.

All of the procedures, from the swab to the marrow donation, including travel and the hospital stay, are free for the donor.

Madrigal said that there is still no match for the Oahu firefighter's niece, but her family still hopes to find a donor, perhaps among the samples he and the PTA fire department collected.

"I'd want the same thing if my family member was sick," Madrigal said.

(Editor's Note: Information for this article was compiled from and

Bone Marrow Donation

Active duty military and their family members, Department of Defense civilians, Reservists, National Guard and Coast Guard service members who would like to learn more about donating, holding their own bone marrow drive, or requesting a single test kit can e-mail the DOD Marrow Donor Program at or visit the center's website at

Non-DOD civilians interested in being a bone marrow donor can visit "Be The Match Registry" and fill out the registration form at The registry will mail you a kit that includes swabs that you must use to swab the inside of your cheeks.

When you return the swabs, you will be added to the registry.

Page last updated Mon February 13th, 2012 at 17:31