My Daughter Donated Stem Cells

Allow me to brag. My daughter, Scarlett, recently donated her stem cells to someone with cancer. Registered on Be the Match, she got the call that she was a possible match. It actually surprised us all. The cancer patient’s doctor decides which type of donation they need—either peripheral blood stem cells or marrow. Scarlett was asked to give the blood.

Rigorous requirement hurdles quickly ensued. She had to undergo a physical, giving lots of blood for lab tests to determine if she was healthy enough to endure the procedure. Healthy, young bodies can eventually replace stem cells, unhealthy candidates are not chosen. After passing the various screenings, made at clinics in distant locations, driven to through winter weather events, she was given instructions about how to inject herself with a drug to prepare for the big day.

Scarlett is a registered nurse. I couldn’t be more proud of her. Because of this, she was allowed to administer her own daily shots in the stomach and follow up with the vitals check. The medicine was delivered on dry ice via Federal Express in pre-dosed syringes. Spendy, we later learned the drug cost around $7,000.

The five days before the draw were a bit brutal on Scarlett. Having requested off work, she spent most of it with a large headache and flu-like symptoms in bed. No way could she have worked, nor would that have been prudent for her health. The drug built up her white blood cells so there would be more material to harvest from.

The big day arrived, and I picked her up and we drove to the blood center. We understood that at the same time, the cancer patient was in a hospital unit, somewhere in the country, literally brought to death’s door and waiting for Scarlett’s cells. The cancer patient’s cells are almost entirely killed off, so when the new cells are introduced, they can take over and rebuild a healthy system.

On the drive to the center, we marveled that but for one glitch in the system, the cancer patient would surely die. If something went wrong with Scarlett and they took her off the protocol. If we got in a car accident on the way. If the guy with the red cooler packed with Scarlett’s stem cells got in an accident on the way to his destination. If the equipment at the blood center stopped working or experienced some type of problem. The list was long.

My girl was strapped down, both arms injected with needles, and her blood was removed and put back in at the same time in a circuit after passing through a machine which extracted the cells. The machine did this for nine hours. Scarlett couldn’t bend her arms while her blood was taken out and replaced almost forty times. It was a bit frightening to think about, but we kept up our spirits and more importantly, the nurse and I helped her relieve her bladder throughout the day. I got to literally spoon feed my baby since she couldn’t bring her hands to her mouth. Perfectly wonderful for me, but not quite so much for her. She couldn’t stop my kisses if she tried. Bonus! I had the nurse take pictures of this, but Scarlett will not give me permission to publish.

The important part is that the job got done. This may not be the most exciting story, but I had to tell it. It was certainly the most exciting story for the recipient. We know almost nothing about them, but they can contact Scarlett after a year if they’d like. We said a prayer for our person. I hope my baby Scarlett’s stem cells worked. She was happy to share.