When he joined the registry in the 1990s, Colonel Eric Oliver of the United States Air Force made a calculated decision. “I have been a regular blood donor since 1985, so a swab for the marrow registry was a simple thing to do—especially in light of the benefit I could potentially provide.”
While he doesn’t remember the exact details of registration – he does remember the moment in 2002 when he learned he was matched to a patient in need of transplant. “I was surprised—based upon what I had read in the pamphlets, I knew it was a long shot to even be a preliminary match. Needless to say though, I didn’t hesitate to call back.”
At Georgetown University Hospital, nestled on the banks of the Potomac River, Col Oliver completed his bone marrow donation. “I didn’t know much about the process, but I asked lots of questions of the doctors afterwards. I learned that they put a needle into my pelvis repeatedly, and each time they went in, they had extracted about 5ml of marrow. For my recipient, who was a young boy, they needed about .75L of marrow—hence hundreds of holes.”
While the procedure went smoothly, Col Oliver was uncomfortable for a while afterwards. He remembers the days with a wry smile:
“Within days of the donation, my boss and I had to make a three hour road trip to visit his boss, who was giving an important presentation in the Washington DC area. The ride wasn’t comfortable for me as I sat in my boss’ car with my perforated pelvis and he drove one of the roughest roads I have seen outside of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the trip didn’t go smoothly, and we arrived about five minutes before the boss’ boss concluded. My boss was fuming, and I was sore and stiff from the ride up. As I was gingerly trying to lower myself into his car, he noticed and asked if I was okay. I reminded him I’d just been through the donation and yes, I was a bit tender. At that, he smiled a bit. All the way home, I felt like he was intentionally driving into every pothole he could--just to watch me grimace. We remain friends to this day, but any time I mention that trip, he gets a gleam in his eye and assures me the potholes were completely unavoidable.”
Despite all the “help” he received, Col Oliver recovered completely and seemed none-the-worse for his experience. “I ran a 5K shortly after the donation and won. Several of my friends were joking that the docs must have injected marrow rather than extract.”
When asked what advice he would give others considering becoming a donor, Col Oliver offered, “Every sample in the database increases the likelihood of saving a life. Add yours. Lives hang in the balance.”
This advice is even more poignant today. One of Col Oliver’s friends is searching for a bone marrow donor of his own, someone with a similarly generous and courageous spirit. If you would be willing to help, please request a registration kit through the Salute to Life website (https://www.salutetolife.org/Join.html).