MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. --
With an upcoming permanent change of station, Maj. Mathew Carter, a Jeanne M. Holm Center for Officer Accessions and Citizen Development instructor at Air University, had hundreds of reasons to say no when he was asked to travel to Washington, D.C., to donate bone marrow to a complete stranger. Instead, he decided this opportunity was too important to loose.
Over the weekend of March 25, he underwent a bone marrow extraction procedure in the hope of helping a 7-year-old child he never met.
This story begins in 2003 when he registered with the Department of Defenses’ Salute to Life program.
Salute to Life, also known as the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Recruitment and Research Program, was initiated in 1991 and is tailored to work exclusively with military members. Over time, the program has recruited more than 1 million donors.
Carter had registered for the program while his father was in the Army. His father was stationed at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. Carter and his family attended a bone marrow drive held for their neighbor who was diagnosed with cancer.
After 14 years, he received not only a letter, but an email and a voicemail from the organization informing him of a match.
“I was kind of caught off-guard by it. It was one of those things that had a lot of opportunities for me to say no, but I have a 5-year-old, and when they told me there was a child that has a very serious life-threatening disease, there was really no question. It was the right thing to do, so I said yes,” said Carter.
Carter began the process in early February by being tested again to confirm the match and getting a physical. By late March he was ready for the procedure.
During the bone marrow extraction, the patient is under local anesthesia while the doctor uses a needle to remove the marrow from the back of the pelvic bone.
“Initially before [the surgery] started I was a little anxious. Before you go into any surgery you get a little anxiety, but it was one of those things that I was ready to just do,” he said. “Afterward, it was just relief knowing that I had done all that I could possibly do to help this person out.”
He compared bone marrow donation to other bodily donations in the sense that when you donate other organs, they are permanently removed. However, with bone marrow or stem cells, the body regenerates what is lost.
“For the two to four weeks of being sore and tired after the procedure, you look at what the recipient is going through, and it pales in comparison, so having the opportunity to do something like that is just amazing,” he said.
For the donor and the recipient’s safety, they are left completely anonymous.. Once a year has passed after the surgery, they are then given the choice to reach out to each other.
When asked what he would say to the child, he thought for a moment and said, “Live your life to the fullest.”
Carter hopes that through this experience he can help raise awareness about bone marrow and stem cell donation, and encourages other to sign-up as donors.
“You’ll be a little sore and tired, but have the opportunity to do something amazing,” he said.
For more information about bone marrow or stem cell donation through Salute to Life, visit www.salutetolife.org.