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News > Tinker man donates stem cells through DOD program, opportunities available
Marrow donation
Richard Jones watches as Keith Jackson tries to find a vein in his arm. Mr. Jones recently donated stem cells and may have saved a life in the process. (Courtesy photo)
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Tinker man donates stem cells through DOD program, opportunities available

Posted 3/25/2011   Updated 3/25/2011 Email story   Print story


by Brandice J. O'Brien
Tinker Public Affairs

3/25/2011 - TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla.  -- Richard "Rick" Jones wasn't influenced by a particular story. He didn't personally know anyone who needed bone marrow or a stem cell donation. Yet, he still decided to give his stem cells to a stranger; and exactly one month ago, he may have saved a life.
Mr. Jones, an equipment specialist with the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center Aerospace Sustainment Directorate's C/KC-135 Sustainment Division, participated in the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program.

"I did it because it was an opportunity to make a very real and positive impact in the lives of the recipient, their entire family and friends," said Mr. Jones, 53. "I may never again have this kind of opportunity to 'pay it forward' and share this kind of blessing with another human being."

Sixteen years ago, while working at Tinker, Mr. Jones said he had heard and read in the Tinker Take Off about an opportunity to donate bone marrow or stem cells. He signed up and gave a blood sample during a drive in Bldg. 3001. In September 2010, 15 years later, he learned he might be a candidate. Unlike other donor programs, donors and recipients have to have certain compatible genetic markers.

Despite the time that had passed or initial fears about a needle being inserted in his hip, Mr. Jones said he was still very interested in the prospect of donating.

As Mr. Jones would soon learn, not all cells are taken from the hipbone. One procedure, the one Mr. Jones did, is non-invasive and doesn't include surgery.

But, if the marrow is taken from the hipbone, donors are brought to the hospital where, under general anesthetic, the marrow is removed.

"After the initial contact I was positive I wanted to do it, then as time went by a little doubt crept in, but after thinking it through and discussing it with my wife, we decided it was just too important not to do," he said.

In November 2010, Mr. Jones, who credits his chain of command for supporting him through the process, participated in a thorough blood work-up to determine if he was actually compatible with a recipient. Last December he learned he was. The donation was scheduled for January, but four days before the process was set to start, the event was canceled.

Mr. Jones still traveled to the Lombardi Cancer Center on the Georgetown University campus in Washington, D.C. As a participant in the DOD donor program, travel, boarding and meal expenses were paid for him and his wife. Once settled, Mr. Jones underwent a full physical and more blood work.

"It was very easy working with Mr. Jones and he was very accommodating with our requests when it came to the needs of the patient," said Mostafa Rouhanian, DOD bone marrow program coordinator who worked with Mr. Jones. "My impression throughout the entire process was of admiration and appreciation and wishing there were more people like Mr. Jones who are willing to help people who are in dire need of a transplant and may never find a match or a willing donor."

A new donation date was set for Feb. 25.

This time, Mr. Jones' wife, Angie, traveled with him to the nation's capital. For four days, Mr. Jones received daily injections of a synthetic hormone called Filgrastim, which is used to stimulate the stem cells in the marrow to be released into the blood, and participated in physical assessments. When finished, Mr. Jones said he and his wife were free to do as they pleased. They used the time to explore Washington, D.C.

On the fifth day, Mr. Jones received one more injection before the collection was taken.

To collect the stem cells, Mr. Jones was hooked up to a Cobe Spectra machine. In each arm, Mr. Jones had an intravenous tube. One side collected whole blood and fed it to the machine. Inside the device was a centrifuge, which separated it into components. Stem cells were pulled out and gathered in a collection bag. Whatever wasn't collected was returned to Mr. Jones using an intravenous tube in his other arm. The process took roughly six hours.

"I opted for a sedative and essentially slept through the donation. What a bargain," Mr. Jones said. "Twenty-four units of blood were filtered to get less than a cup full of stem cells. Twenty-four units are just about all of my blood - twice.

"I'm not going to say it was all easy. The shots that cause your marrow to overproduce stem cells also make your body hurt," Mr. Jones said. "They prescribed medicine that controlled the pain and kept my discomfort to a minimum. For about seven days after the donation I felt a little fatigued and had some minor aches. It was nothing worse than you would feel the week after you get over the flu."

The DOD donor program is a donor center associated with the National Marrow Donor Program, which has more than 9-million registered donors. While there is a need for minority donors right now, people in good health between the ages of 18-60 are able to sign up.

"The bigger the pool of donors, the better the chance of getting a match," Mr. Jones said. "Even siblings match less than 30 percent of the time, so it is very important to get as many members as possible of any given group."

Mr. Rouhanian agreed.

"This process is important because the patient has no other alternative to their cancer treatment. They need healthy cells to replace their cancerous cells and at this point, this is their only viable option," he said.

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