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Lauren's Story

“You could save someone’s life.”

The speech from a Vitalant account manager encouraging people to join the Be The Match bone marrow registry was around three minutes long, but all Lauren remembers from that spiel at a blood drive back in 2010 was those five words – You could save someone’s life.

“After I heard that, I said ‘sign me up and swab me,’” Lauren said of joining the registry.

Roughly four years later Lauren was checking her email and noticed one from the National Marrow Donor Program, the organization that operates Be The Match. The email stated she was a partial match for a person in need of a bone marrow transplant, and asked if she was interested in continuing the process of being a bone marrow donor.

Overjoyed at the news she could help someone in need, Lauren more than willingly took the required blood test and other medical exams and soon learned she was a perfect match for a 3-year-old boy from Spain with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, a potentially life-threatening condition in which the body makes an abundance of activated immune cells.

The bone marrow harvest occurred on March 31, 2014, at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge and within 48 hours Lauren was back to work at her job in downtown Chicago. LifeSource’s nursing staff assisted Lauren throughout the process.

“The whole process went really well and the LifeSource staff member and the doctors kept me informed each step of the way,” Lauren said of the procedure which used a needle to extract bone marrow stem cells from the pelvic bone. “I wasn’t even nervous. I was just so excited to help potentially save a life.”

In addition to the procedure Lauren had, there is also a nonsurgical method called apheresis. During apheresis, a donor’s blood is removed and passed through a machine that separates stem cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor.

Lauren said Spain’s privacy policy prevents her from meeting or even knowing the recipient’s identity, but she was notified approximately six months after her donation that the transplant was successful.

Even though Lauren was all in when it came to donating her bone marrow, it was actually a fluke she joined the registry. Lauren, who now lives in Denver, Colorado, planned on giving blood at that drive eight years ago at her work but her iron count was too high and she was unable to donate.

“I was really upset because I finally weighed over [the required] 110 pounds to donate,” said Lauren, who stands 5 feet 2 inches tall. “I’m pretty petite so there were a few times I couldn’t donate because I didn’t weigh enough.”

The 28-year-old said she has heard potential pain from the procedure is one of the main reasons some shy away from being a bone marrow donor, but Lauren said any discomfort she experienced was “never more than a minor annoyance.” She was back to her normal activity just a few days after the procedure, she noted.

“The doctors would constantly ask me to rate my pain level on a scale of 1-10 and I can honestly say it never got above a 5,” she said. “I got to the hospital for prep at around 5 a.m. and I was back home by 1 p.m. The actual surgery only took around 20 minutes. It was quick and easy.”

Lauren said she understands why some may be apprehensive about undergoing the procedure but was quick to point out the positives.

“Some people are probably going to be nervous but you just have to keep telling yourself that you are helping to save a life,” she said. “When I was told I was a perfect match for a person in need I thought to myself how could I not go through with this. I can deal with a little bit of pain for a couple of days if it means saving someone’s life.”

For those who opt against joining the registry or those who are prevented from doing so because of age or health reasons, Lauren offered other suggestions to become involved.

“There is still so much for those people to do,” she said. “They can hold marrow registry drives or donate blood. There are plenty of ways to make a difference.”