EXCHANGE: Illinois marrow donor shares story


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LASALLE, Ill. (AP) — Somewhere during his long stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, Brad Vogelgesang of La Salle volunteered his name for a bone marrow registry.

And then he forgot all about it — put it out of his mind completely.

But somewhere Down Under is a woman who's very glad he put his name in.

Vogelgesang is awaiting word on whether his stem cell donation helped out an anonymous recipient in Australia. All he's been told is the patient is a 63-year-old woman with leukemia.

Vogelgesang was happy to oblige, and his boss eagerly consented to the time off, but the call itself came completely out of left field.

"It caught me off guard," he said. "It was something that hadn't been in my mind for a couple of years."

A few weeks before Christmas, Vogelgesang flew to Washington, D.C. for a six-day stay in which doctors harvested stem cells and then handed a secure package to a waiting courier to catch the next flight to Australia.

Now comes the waiting game for the recipient and her physicians, though Vogelgesang isn't betting on any kind of update from anybody. By rule, the recipient alone decides who is and isn't apprised of her medical condition.

"There's a chance I may never know anything about her, or even if any of this helped," Vogelgesang shrugged.

"It would be interesting to know," he mused. "At the same time, I know it's a private matter and I would completely understand and respect that if she chose to be anonymous."

Vogelgesang urged others to sign up for such registries, noting that the stem-cell extraction is neither painful nor debilitating and could well save another's life.

He doesn't remember when during his eight-year stint in the service that he signed up, but years passed before he got calls indicating he might be somebody's match. Most of the early calls were false starts that came to nothing.

But it became clear in 2014 that additional comparisons led doctors to conclude he might be the woman's perfect match. He got the OK to take the time off for a Dec. 5-11 stint at Georgetown University Hospital. There, doctors gave him a series of filgrastim injections to elevate his platelet count.

"Filgrastim causes mild muscle discomfort and flu like symptoms," he recalled, "but I was still able to function normally while receiving these treatments."

Once the injections were complete, doctors opted on Dec. 10 for a peripheral blood stem cell harvest, as opposed to the traditional withdrawal of bone marrow performed under anesthesia. The harvest takes up to eight hours, but Vogelgesang completed his in four, during which he was bored but never uncomfortable.

"It wasn't painful," he said. "I was back to work the next day."

A former Arlington woman said she hopes others follow Vogelgesang's courageous lead and submit their names in hopes they, too, may someday give a potentially life-saving donation.

Edna Rivera, now of Champaign, lost her mother Maria Rodriguez in May of 2012 after a long battle with cancer. Rodriguez received a bone marrow transplant that, while ultimately unsuccessful, gave her and her family much-needed hope.

Rivera noted that the match was found within Rodriguez' large family and noted soberly that most recipients couldn't draw from a large pool of potential matches.

"A lot of people had a hard time finding a match," Rivera said. "My mom had seven or eight siblings and only found one match.

"People should donate because it could help someone."

Soon after his return from Washington, Vogelgesang celebrated Christmas at home with wife Genevieve and their three children. Positive news from abroad would have been a welcome holiday gift, but Vogelgesang was warned out of the chute not to expect any missives.

And if he were contacted, would he consider taking his wife and kids to Australia to meet the woman whose life he'd saved?

"That would be kind of cool," he smiled. "I don't foresee that happening. I just hope it works. That's the biggest thing: I hope everything is OK on her end."

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Source: (LaSalle) News Tribune, http://bit.ly/1y4aZuo

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Information from: News-Tribune, http://www.newstrib.com

This is an Illinois Exchange story shared by the (LaSalle) News Tribune.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos

Tom Collins - (lasalle) News Tribune

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