Giving the Gift of Life

We didn’t tell many people outside of our close friends and family. But now that he is home with me safe and sound, we want to share this story with you. I’m not exactly sure how to tell this story because it didn’t happen to me, but I’ll do my best to share my perspective.

For the past three years since Brandon became a physician, I’ve watched him work 80+ hour weeks helping people. Saving lives. My patients need me and right now they’re a higher priority than you, he says to me when I (jokingly) beg him to stay home instead of going to work on a Saturday. He’s always thinking about his patients and their care plans, always looking up studies and reading journals to make sure he’s giving his very best every time. He gives and gives and gives. He gives his time. He gives his knowledge. He gives his patience. He gives his love.

But this time, he gave himself — literally. He gave a part of himself (his bone marrow) to a patient with leukemia*.

Who is your recipient? Is it a family member?

As he’s being prepped for surgery, he’s asked this question by each staff member that comes in the room. The answer is he doesn’t know. It’s an anonymous donation.

He got the call from Be the Match a couple months ago. With no hesitation, he started setting up his appointments: blood draws, physicals, blood donations, paperwork. He did this while working nights, which meant sometimes he’d finish a night shift (14 hours), try to sleep 2 hours, then wake up and go to an appointment. Then he’d try to get another few hours of sleep in before it was time to go back to work again. He scheduled his donation during his vacation block so he wouldn’t have to take time off of work.

What inspired you to join the registry?

This was another common question that was asked.

My wife.

Then he’d go on to tell the phlebotemist, the nurse, the nurse anesthetist, the surgeon about how I had helped orchestrate a bone marrow drive four years ago after connecting with a patient, and that’s when he joined. So it’s been 3-4 years that he’s been on the registry before he had the honor of donating.

Back when he was filling out all of the paperwork, he told me that he was doing this for personal reasons — and for Johnny, the patient we held the bone marrow drive for. I told him, “today is his birthday.” TEARS.

Alarms went off around 5:45 am. My in-laws were here visiting for Brandon’s birthday a few days prior. We all piled into the car, sleep deprived. We arrived at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, a mile from our home, and made our way up to the surgery center. It was very quiet.

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I got to see Brandon before he went in. We met with our wonderful surgeon, a jolly fella wearing a bow tie. He talked with Brandon for a bit, then turned to me and said…

And you must be his nice friend.

I laughed. That’s one thing you can call me, I guess! Brandon quickly interjected that I was his wife. Each person that came in his room thanked him for donating that day. I teared up every single time. Then a staff member from pastoral care came in to pray over Brandon. I welled up immediately.

Tears are a good sign, she said.

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They were ready to take him back.

We’ll take good care of him.

I quickly gave him a kiss on the forehead, told him I loved him, and ran out. I walked into the waiting room, my eyes filled with tears again. I’m so glad that my in-laws were in town for this. It was very nice having them around and not being alone.

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The surgeon told us they’d be about an hour. Three hours passed and I started getting anxious. The status hadn’t changed on the board. It still read: IN SURGERY. I’d look up every few minutes from surfing AirBNB for neat getaway places.

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Finally, Dr. M came out and told us everything went great. They took less volume than they needed, and he would be headed back to recovery to start getting a blood transfusion (of his own blood) to replenish from the blood loss.

The blood transfusion took several hours. I waited with him in the room while he attempted to sleep. He looked very puffy (as in the picture below) because they pumped him with 6 liters of fluids beforehand to keep him well hydrated.

5:30 rolls around. Brandon passed all of his tests that would allow him to go home. We met with Dr. M again so he could check his dressing and give his final blessings for us to leave.

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There are no words to describe how incredibly proud I am of this guy. He’s my hero. A super human. I admire his strength, his courage, his generosity. He’s an inspiration to me and I know to many others, and I’m so happy to call him mine.

The only bummer about this whole thing is that he’s not allowed to rock climb for at least four weeks. The poor guy will have to watch me climb. Such torture :)

For those of you wondering, Brandon’s recovery has been smooth sailing. I’m a terrible nurse, but I’m happy to report that he’s walking, he’s alert, he’s in minimal pain. He describes it as, “a horse kicking me in the back over and over.” His dressings look good, he’s in good spirits, and we’ve gotten word that the patient received the transplant.

If you want to know more about our experience, feel free to leave a comment below or email me at hello@tiffphotography.com. I’d be happy to share as much info with you as I can. If you’re interested in joining the Be the Match registry, visit bethematch.org and look for a drive near you. I love knowing that this one drive four years ago continues to help find matches for patients in need. I hope one day I’ll get the call.

*Details are generic as to protect patient privacy.