I answered a phone call from an unknown number in July halfway expecting it to be someone asking me to “purchase an extended warranty” for my vehicle. Instead, surprisingly I was informed that I matched someone in The National Bone Marrow Donor Registry and the person on the phone wanted to know if I was willing to donate my bone marrow or stem cells to an anonymous male leukemia patient in dire need of a lifesaving procedure. I was taken aback by the circumstances that led up to this point. As the old adage goes, “The chains of destiny can only be seen one link at a time.”
The last several years have been tough, multiple deployments, challenging jobs, and much of the same sacrifice that so many of us have gone through in “military life.” Then, shockingly I was informed that my little sister, still in her 20s, was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. Moments like those focus life into perspective about what’s important and what’s not. The truth is in the hurries of daily life I hadn’t spent as much time with her as I ought to have. In an effort to strengthen our relationship, bond with her, and show her my support in her own battle, I started attending church with her. In one of the services the preacher informed the attendees that one of our church members was diagnosed with leukemia, was seeking a match, and was looking for volunteers to join The National Bone Marrow Donor Registry. As I listened to the speaker’s appeal, I felt “the call” and it resonated in my heart so similarly to the call to service I answered when I joined the military so long ago after watching that second tower fall on television, while standing in the student lobby.
I had never considered joining the registry before; I’d never been presented with the opportunity, but now I knew. I thought to myself, what if someone had the ability to make a choice that could save my sister, my children, or even me? What if when presented with that choice they just walked on by? I attend a big church, and I could have easily walked away, and no one would have known or judged me….no one but me. In that moment I resolved within myself that I’d sign up for the registry. I joined the line, answered some questions, gave a quick swab of my DNA, and went on with my life. Fast forward five months to answering this call asking me to donate now that I’ve matched a real person. Fate presented me with another choice. What ought I to do? I could have said no…no one would have known…no one but me. The representative asked some initial questions and commented that it isn’t common that someone matches a potential recipient so quickly. I asked if the fact that I am of mixed ethnicity may have played a role. She said it might have, given that minorities are underrepresented in the donor pool, and that mixed ethnicity makes it potentially harder to find a match.
Upon agreeing to donate and answering some initial questions the representative realized that I am a military service member and informed me that the Department of Defense (DoD) has their own “Salute to Life DoD Marrow Donor Program,” which would manage my case going forward and that they would be contacting me soon. Up until that moment I was totally unaware that DoD had a sponsored marrow donor program. Sure enough, I was contacted by the DoD donor program office shortly thereafter. The representative informed me that all personal travel costs associated with my donation were covered. I could take a travel companion, and if needed, they would fly in family members to watch my children or even board a pet, if required, to make things as simple as possible for me. To say the least, I was impressed with how far they were willing to go to make my donation easier. The DoD Marrow Donor Program wrote a letter to my chain of command at Fort Benning, Ga. Despite the risks associated with travel during COVID-19, my leaders understood the gravity of the circumstances and approved me to travel. They coined it my “humanitarian mission.” I am grateful to them, and thankful for the exceptional leaders I have had the privilege to serve under throughout my career. I truly believe my fellow service members are really the best our nation has to offer.
Fast forward through a second DNA test, followed by the procedure dates, and hospital venue. I chose to travel with my Dad as my official companion, and fortuitously the dates for the trip fell on his birthday. Bad weather caused our flights to be canceled, but we jumped in the car and road tripped it all the way there. It was a no fail mission, someone was depending on us and these veterans were going to give it our best. The procedure went well; we completed the mission. I’ll never forget the week my Dad and I spent together and how grateful I am he accompanied me.
The Donor Marrow Program facilitates donors communicating with the anonymous recipient. I plan to write the recipient a letter soon. In a year, if we both agree to it, we can disclose our identities. We may never know or meet one another and that is okay. It doesn’t matter if he knows who I am. I don’t care if he is a Republican or Democrat or whether he takes a knee during the national anthem, while I stand with conviction. He may be a conscientious objector who doesn’t agree with my several tours of duty. Tolerance is about tolerating other’s views you fundamentally disagree with, but wishing the best for them. The only thing that he needs to know about me he already does…when he needed someone…maybe the most he ever has…that person didn’t walk away, and answered the call. The call to help another person in need.
I’ve deliberately chosen to remain nameless in this article. You see this article was never really about me. This article is really about you. No one is born a hero. Courage isn’t necessarily about daring feats of strength. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, courage is simply the testing point of all other virtues. You and I have something in common. We share the bond of answering the call to serve our nation. Now you know The Salute to Life DoD Marrow Donor Program exists, and I’m making an appeal to you. You can carry on, and walk by without anyone ever knowing any differently. No one will know but you. Are you willing to answer the call? You might not ever know who you helped, and they might not ever know you. Nevertheless, the Good Samaritan was the true neighbor and no one knew his name. Will you walk away or will you answer the call?
P.S. As I wrote the draft to this article I received two calls asking me if I needed an extended warranty for my vehicle and the irony doesn’t escape me.
For more information about the Salute to Life Donate Bone Marrow Program, go to: