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Letters: A Gift of Life

Millie Jefferson

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Four generations of Carter men
(Mindy Chateau)
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Last week, during our call-out for three-day weekend stories, we made a reference to Veterans Day. David Viera, president of Citywide Friends of the Boston Public library, wrote in to correct us -- the holiday is always on November 11, and not necessarily a three-day weekend.

Recently in our Good, Bad, No News segment, we talked about public reaction to the death of a horse at the Kentucky Derby. Some of our guests on the segment said that danger is a natural part of sports, including auto racing and football. Many of you wrote in to make the point that human athletes choose to compete, while horses don't get much of a say in the matter. So noted.

Also two weeks ago, we brought you Marc Sanchez' story about his journey as a bone marrow donor. Many of you were moved by the story, including Joel Carter of Grand Rapids, Mich., who wrote Marc a letter:


Dear Mr. Sanchez,

I listened to your story with deep fascination as to the process you went through when invited to save a life, the life of a person you do not know and may never meet. I am a recipient of a bone marrow transplant but I often wonder what the experience has meant to my donor. I would like to tell you my story so that perhaps you might receive a glimpse of what it's like for a transplant recipient to be given a second life.

In 1975, my older brother died of cancer -- leaving behind a young wife and a nine-month-old son whom he never saw take his first step, never heard him say his first word. My father and mother had to bury their first son. To this day, my father, a Depression-era survivor and a WWII veteran, describes it as the most tragic moment of his life.

In February 2007, nearly 32 years after my brother was laid to rest, I was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia, a very aggressive and deadly form of leukemia, especially for my age group. When I shared the diagnosis with my family, everyone braced themselves for another tragedy.

Throughout the journey of my battle with cancer, I've faced very bad odds of survival at every stage of treatment. I received chemotherapy for four months and was in remission when in June the leukemia returned. My only medical option was a bone marrow transplant which I received in August. Since then, by the hand of God and the use of modern treatments, my recovery has been a textbook example of success.

My match was found through the NMDP (National Marrow Donor Program). At the time the search was conducted, there were about six million registrants domestically and another four million internationally; two acceptable matches were found. I don't know if both matches were approached, but one said "yes." One person in 10 million was in a position to save my life, and she said yes.

I often think of my donor -- someone like you who did not know me and maybe never will. All I know of her is that she was 35-years-old and does not reside in the USA. I've already written two anonymous letters, as allowed by program protocol, but I have received no response. I've assumed that a donor would want to know what happened and would want to know something about the person to whom they gave life. I never considered your perspective that it might be too painful because her gift may be associated with another personal loss.

Let me try to put into tangible terms what her gift means:

I have a son who I adopted when he was 4-years- old. I have no natural children of my own -- early in my marriage, my wife and I lost six children at various stages of pregnancy. I always wanted to be a part of a child's life from their first day and I looked forward to grandchildren. When my diagnosis came with such gloomy odds of survival it looked like I would never see that day. But thanks to the successful transplant, I have survived.

The day I so dearly hoped for came April 5th when my grandson Emerson was born. I was able to meet him face-to-face because both of us were an example of miraculous God-given life -- his new, mine renewed with the gift from my donor. My father did not have to bury another son, my son did not lose his father in the prime of life, and Emerson will know his grandfather through personal relationship, not just by photos and anecdotal stories.

These relationships continue and flourish because my life continues. Applying this perspective to the larger picture: all my other family members, every friendship I have, all my co-workers and everyone I interact with is affected because I continue to live. It's not about just one guy who beat cancer and continues on with his personal life. That life, whether glorious or pathetic, is intrinsically a part of many other lives.

If you would allow me to be the voice of your recipient for a moment, I would like to say what I believe is in his heart and soul as well as the hearts and souls of those who know and love him: Thank you. Thank you so very much. Thank you for giving me life, and may God bless you richly.

More stories from our Letters series

Comments

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  • By Tim Hanna

    From Greensboro, NC, 12/27/2008

    I listened to Mr. Sanchez's story last year and almost immediately signed up for the BMDP. A few months later, I received the swabs, forwarded to my new address, and returned them to their database. I have not heard from the program since, but am willing and ready to enter into the process if the need arises.

    I was just listening to the followup story today (Dec. 27), and was a bit confounded by Sanchez when he said he wouldn't do it again unless it was a family member, and that he didn't want to meet his recipient.

    Perhaps my chagrin comes as an inappropriate response. But I cannot help ask: "Why?"

    What this world seems to need is more people willing to help each other willingly, and without shame, pride or ego. Sanchez, although he claims to prefer to remain out of the spotlight, still chooses to share his radio program with millions of people. Does the anonymity he feels when speaking to absent listeners not resemble a type of spotlight-feeling more to his liking because there is no immediate interaction at the moment of sharing? Or, is he so awkward that he won't consider the fact that an actual connection with another human being (a being who may feel a compulsion to meet him, the returner of life to said being) might preclude his own selfish desire to stay unburdened by the weight of responsibility ("taking that all on") for another being?

    I wonder about his motives for speaking this way, and would like him to think a little more carefully about his intentions, and perhaps entertain the possibility that he may bring more attention to himself by NOT opening up to experiences that he fears. As he himself even mentioned, it may not be as bad as he thinks it will be...

    In peace,

    Tim

    By Joel Carter

    From Grand Rapids, MI, 06/01/2008

    Information about becoming a Marrow Donor can be found at the website of the National Marrow Donor Program: www.marrow.org

    By Kris Rice

    From Savannah, GA, 05/31/2008

    Thank you, Mr. Carter, for your profoundly moving explanation of what one marrow donor's gift meant to you.
    Ten years ago, I was excited to be a donor for a young woman in Canada. (I cheated and looked at the paperwork when the nurse was out of the room.) I wondered and worried endlessly about her and her family, but was never given any additional information. I sent a note of hope and good wishes with the cooler holding the marrow, and subsequently received a heartfelt thank you... but despite my follow-up letters, I never heard from her again.
    A year later, I was devastated to find out that, despite the operation, she had died anyway. I felt that her death was indirectly my fault, and that I had somehow failed this poor sick woman and her loved ones.
    Your letter inspired me to hope that perhaps someday soon, before my marrow becomes too old and shriveled up to use, I'll be fortunate enough to again have the opportunity to perform a very small act that this time may have a more lasting impact.
    Best wishes for a very full and happy life, and warmest congratulations on the birth of your grandson.

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