March 6, 2012
For four days in mid-February, Sgt. 1st Class Amie Macklin, a recruiter with the 1st Medical Battalion's Elkridge Station, received injections of a drug that mobilized blood stem cells from her bone marrow into her bloodstream.
The drug, Filgrastim, a protein similar to a hormone naturally produced in the body, made her lower back, jaw, neck and knees ache.
On the fifth day, 18-gauge needles were placed in each of her arms. For three hours, blood removed from one arm filtered through a process called apheresis -- separating out the blood stem cells before returning the remaining blood to Macklin through the needle in her other arm. The process was tiring and caused headaches.
While this whole procedure couldn't be described as unbearable, it isn't something most people would find enjoyable, yet Macklin found it gratifying. In fact, she'd been eagerly waiting this day for 14 years.
"I would do it again next week if I had to," said Macklin.
You see, the stem cells removed from Macklin were given the very next day to a 60-year-old woman who has leukemia. It is Macklin's hope that those stem cells will save the recipient's life.
This nonsurgical process, called peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC), is the most common method used today to donate bone marrow cells.
"I actually got tears in my eyes when they called [me in January] and told me [I was a possible match] because I've had two children. I brought life into this world." said Macklin. "And now it's an honor to keep someone living to continue on with their family. To be that person who is able to do that, I just think is really special."
Macklin signed up to donate bone marrow through the Department of Defense Marrow Donor program at the age of 20 in 1998 when she was in basic training. She figured if there was some way she could help someone in any way, shape or form, then why not do it.
"I believe there are so many different medical [procedures] that can't truly save anyone. This is something that works. I'm a Christian, and for God to allow me to have my bone marrow actually match up with this person, I kind of feel there's a type of connection, that we are made of the same genes, and that it's something I should and need to do. That's why I feel it's such an honor to be able to do this."
While thousands of patients with life-threatening diseases are in need of a bone marrow transplant, on average only one in every 540 members in the donor program are a match for someone in need. Patients can die lingering on the waiting list.
It is for this reason, Macklin hopes to encourage others to sign up and learn about marrow donation.
"The other day a retired first sergeant from our battalion came up to me in the gym," said Macklin. "And he'd heard I was doing this procedure and told me his brother was a survivor from two bone marrow transplants. This just makes it even more important [for me] to get more involved."
Macklin's husband of three years, Mark, supports his wife's decision 100 percent and isn't surprised by her generosity.
"That's just who she is," he said. "I wouldn't expect anything less. Any time she can, she bends over backwards to try to help. That was one of the things that attracted me to her. She loves taking care of her family, her kids, she loves her service in the Army, she puts those things first."
This is a perfect example of selfless service said 1st MRBn commander, Lt. Col. Pablito Gahol, and Macklin's commander, Capt. Molly Jensen, Military District of Washington (MDW) Medical Recruiting Company.
"My command philosophy and the cornerstone and foundation of leadership for me is the Army Values," said Gahol. "And what Sgt. 1st Class Macklin is doing is a perfect example of selfless service, doing something to help others -- because she's not getting any monetary gain from this, but is doing it to save somebody's life."
"Sgt. 1st Class Macklin's unwavering willingness to go through with this procedure for a recipient she's never met is an admirable example of selfless service," said Jenson. "Moreover, she plans to take every opportunity to help others see the value in participating in the DoD Marrow Donor Program in hopes of expanding the donor base."
"I do take the Army Values very seriously," said Macklin. "But I wasn't thinking about selfless service when I signed to be a donor, I didn't think about that at all. I always try to do what's right, period, as a person. Not only does the Army uphold me to those standards, but personally I feel I should uphold those standards within myself as an individual."
Except for the recipient's age, gender and the fact that she lives in the United States, Macklin doesn't know anything else about her. In a couple of weeks Macklin will receive an update on the patient's condition. In five months, she'll get another update and will be informed at that time if the recipient is in need of anything else. A year from now, the two will be able to exchange contact information if both parties agree. If they'd like to contact each other before then, they can only do so by a letter sent through the marrow data bank.
"I would like to meet her," said Macklin. "I want to see what she looks like, see her family and see who she is. It would be a neat experience, especially if she has children and grandchildren -- and to know that I actually was a part in enabling her to be there for them as they grow."