Donor search coordinator turns into donor (Italy)

I have been asked to write my experience as bone marrow donor. Here it is.
First of all it is necessary to introduce myself. My name is… I am joking, according to Italian law, bone marrow donors must remain anonymous and I strongly believe in the rightness of this rule, but my story’s peculiarity is not in my name but in my job; from 01.01.2008 I’m working at the Italian Bone Marrow Donor Registry.

When I started working at IBMDR I knew very little about marrow donation, but almost immediately I enroll myself as a potential volunteer donor. I’ll be honest the initial thrust to enroll myself was the fact that it seemed absurd to work in donor management without being registered as a donor. However, day after day, after learning hundreds of stories of illnesses and as many hopes of healing, my awareness of the importance of donation increased.

I state that my HLA, as I knew, is quite particular. So much so that in the whole international register there were no other donors with my own characteristics. The chances of turning from a potential donor to an actual donor was therefore very low. Years passed and I was aware that I was registered but I no longer thought about being selected for a patient waiting for transplant.

My work continued day after day and within our organisation I assumed the role of search coordinator. It means that when a new patient’s search is activated my task is to find the most compatible donors in the international register and to propose them for evaluation to the transplant center. We know very well that in addition to their already unlucky condition some patients are more unlucky than others, due to the rarity of their genetic characteristics that makes the search for an unrelated donor more difficult than others.

That morning the search I was dealing with seemed particularly hard. There was only one donor worldwide matching with the patient and it was coincidentally belonging to the Italian registry. Having a single donor is not exactly an ideal situation, it is not unlikely that the donor will be unavailable when contacted. However after evaluating this donor’s characteristics three clues: 1) date of birth 2) donor center 3) rare HLA, made me suspect that that donor in particular would not be unavailable. That donor was me.

In my childhood, every summer, I spent my holidays in a small country village where every year, at the patron’s party, they organized a small lottery. Once I won a sled the most coveted prize among all. In order to explain the emotion I felt when, clue after clue, I discovered the donor’s identity to be my identity, I can tell you that the emotion reminded me of that time I felt discovering digit by digit that the number I pulled out, corresponded to that prize.

From that moment I left the management of this particular search to a colleague of mine. I knew I was the only compatible donor so I wasn’t surprised when the donor center asked me a blood sample to ship to the transplant center in order to perform the confirmatory HLA typing.
That was the moment to evaluate my actual suitability for the donation and every time at each new exam my fear was to be unavailable for some medical reason.

Beyond the awareness of having given the hope of healing to a human being, the most positive thing this experience left to me is the will to take care of myself to be healthy, as me being healthy was no longer just a personal matter but directly affected the life of another individual. In the end, I was suitable for donation and a summer day that I’ll never forget I gave my bone marrow to another person, and from that moment I began to hope with all my heart in the receiver’s safety.

There was a one in 30 million chance, it was more likely to win the Italian lottery and I probably would not make a chance (my wife might not agree … but maybe yes).

Kind regards X