“Mrs. Cahill, wake up! Your husband is out of surgery. We’d like to show you something that could save someone‘s life.”
This unbelievable journey began in 1996. We had moved back to Connecticut that spring. My husband Tom has always been a blood donor but noticed a sign that said “Bone Marrow Drive“ instead. To date he’s donated over three gallons of blood. At a bone marrow drive, however, it’s not necessary to give a pint of blood; it's just a simple cheek swab that's needed for testing. This particular drive was for a local girl, Angela Hubley. A 1996 Daniel Hand graduate, this shining star, Angela, was fighting for her life. Although Angela’s struggle ended in February of 1997, it was because of her that Stephanie’s life was saved.
A Red Cross representative called to say that Tom was a possible match. Could he come in for additional testing? Was that a real question? Of course he could. As unbelievable as it may seem, my husband who is seventy-five percent Irish and twenty-five percent English was a match for a six year old Portuguese girl. As a matter of fact they said, he was more than likely a better match for her than he was for his own children.
A date was scheduled for the summer of 1997. His bone marrow would be harvested at the UCONN Medical Center in Farmington. I made arrangements to have my brother and sister-in-law take our two boys. We knew the age of the recipient and that she was a girl but that was it. We didn’t even know her first name. She was six. The age of our youngest son, Cameron.
We sent gifts for her; stuffed animals, notes, cards. I knit her a sweater. All of this was transported with the small cooler that held the all important marrow. We were told by the Red Cross that we couldn’t have any contact with her unless her family was in agreement. Understandable, of course.
As I looked at the tiny vials, I prayed that it would work. The nurse tucked them back into the cooler and off they went. We knew that the recipient was in the United States, but we didn’t know where. Tom was back to work the next day. The surgery seemed like such a small price to pay if he could save someone’s life. We received word that things had gone well. The little girl was responding to the transplant. Her family agreed that it was OK if we shared information. Her name was Stephanie.
We started receiving cards and letters of thank you from this little girl and her family. We spoke to her on the phone. We did this for several years. It got to the point where we were almost afraid to contact them. After all, the odds were not good. We continued to think and wonder about her when one day, Cameron received a message via Facebook from Stephanie’s mom. She sent a message saying “Are you the same Cameron Cahill who’s dad donated bone marrow?” I often think of this when I wonder what social media is doing to our children. Without it, we may never have known.
Stephanie is now twenty years old and a college student; it’s been a long road filled with other illnesses and many setbacks. But she’s alive, she’s happy and she’s very thankful for this big Irish lug of a guy who saved her life.
It’s very easy to become part of the National Bone Marrow Donor Program. For more information, go to http://www.marrow.org/Home.aspx. For frequently asked questions go tohttp://chapters.redcross.org/az/bloodregion/nmdp.htm.
Stem cell donation has also become popular since Tom’s donation in 1997. Unlike a bone marrow harvest, it is not performed in an operating room.
Tom has been called three times as a possible match. Perhaps you can save someone’s life too.