Deborah Callison's Story

“Just do it! Do things for others that are not expected” says Deborah Callison, a retired United States Air Force veteran who encourages others to donate stem cells or marrow just as she did recently. When Deborah learned that a friend and fellow veteran was diagnosed with leukemia, she quickly signed up for the C.W. Bill Young / Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program hoping to be a match. Unfortunately, she was not.

However, years later, Callison received a phone call that she was a potential match for another woman diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Callison was asked to donate peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) in Washington DC. She demurred after having concerns about being away from her godson, for whom she provided daily childcare. The Donor Program was determined to meet Callison’s requirements and made arrangements for her to donate at a local clinic just 20 minutes away from her hometown.

Callison prepared for the PBSC donation with a physical exam where the doctor briefed her on the 4-6 hour procedure. As part of PBSC donation, donors are given injections of a drug called filgrastim, intended to stimulate stem cell release in the five days leading up to donation. Callison recalls being mostly tired and experiencing bone achiness on the third day of injection, but was still able to function normally.

The day of donation was a “surreal” experience for Callison as cancer patients were literally across from her in the ward undergoing chemotherapy. She stated “Seeing that put things into perspective that this was not about me and any fears or discomfort I felt didn’t matter”. With the support of her personal trainer-friend and the “extremely helpful” nurses, Callison was able to push through the 4+ hour procedure. Afterwards, she quickly recovered saying, “I donated on a Thursday and by Monday I was back taking a spin class”. (Note: Recovery times vary among individuals and depend on a variety of factors.)

If you are affiliated with the U.S. military or Department of Defense and are interested in making a life-saving difference to a patient in need, please join our registry at