EL PASO, Texas - Thousands of people with life-threatening diseases wait for bone marrow transplants; thousands of potential bone marrow donors wait to donate. Soldiers in the Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers group assembled to collect registration for bone marrow donors at the global Tour for the Troops event hosted by the Air Force Reserve, Feb. 16, at Biggs Park.
Staff Sgt. Jani J. Michielsen, a source intelligence analyst with Intelligence and Sustainment Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Armored Division, collaborated with her comrades to increase the number of registered potential bone marrow donors in the El Paso area.
“Soldiers came to our booth to share their stories, show scars from previous donations, and show appreciation for the opportunity to give,” said Michielsen. “People who had donated bone marrow before registered again with hopes to save another life.
“I have registered to donate bone marrow but haven’t donated. If I get that call, I would never think twice about giving,” continued Michielsen.
Michielsen has deployed twice to Iraq. During her deployments soldiers were asked to donate blood for injured soldiers. Michielsen said after she donated blood, she found out that the Department of Defense has a bone marrow donation program, which needs more support.
In January 2012, Michielsen began to volunteer with registration of soldiers and members of the community for bone marrow donation.
“My battalion decided that our volunteer efforts would be focused on soldier health. We chose to do a registry due to the amount of declined attempts for bone marrow registry at off-post sites,” said Michielsen.
It is important to get as many people in the bone marrow database as possible, due to specificity of a match, said Michielsen. If the match is not close enough, the recipient’s body could reject the donation, possibly resulting in loss of life.
Pfc. Ray Wells, also with Intelligence and Sustainment Company, described the registration process, saying, “to donate, completing forms with DNA samples takes about five minutes, and everything is forwarded to Washington, D.C. After three weeks the donor is put in a donor system.”
During the first three weeks, samples of DNA from swabs are run through a lab to be broken down to match anyone on the current National Marrow Donor Program list. Donors could be linked with patients as early as three weeks after the registry or as long as 15 years afterward.
Ethnicity is important when matching donor DNA to patients in a national database. The DoD and the National Bone Marrow Program registry have a need for Hispanic and African American donors.
“I love volunteering, because I learn something new about bone marrow donation every day. After over 100 donor packets, it’s too soon to say that we have been responsible for a match yet,” said Michielsen. “One day I will read about their donor stories and I think, ‘Wow!’ We helped with someone. Selfless service can save a life, and so I help. The Army is a family of one, and we help each other.”