Welcome to my life.
The life of a Marine's wife,
registered nurse,
dog owner,
wanna-be photographer,
and budding writer.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

You go

Wherever you go today
You go today

To say that a lot has been going on would be a gross understatement of epic proportions. I've been really behind on updating this blog, for various (good!) reasons.

I had a birthday, I'm 25 now. I'm closer to 30 than 20. Weird.
For my birthday this year I got one of the best opportunities in the world.
The opportunity to help save a life. Literally.

I don't know if I've ever referenced it before in this blog but when I was in high school I had a really good friend, who knows who she is. Anyway, one day before graduating we compiled a list in journals. A "bucket list" of sorts. In these books are various obtainable/unobtainable goals from "Going on Oprah" to "Never being late for a single college class." Well unfortunately for me, the latter of those two goals did not work out well.  Anyway, we hoped to accomplish as many of these goals as we possibly could before we died. I don't know if she is still attempting, but I certainly try. Though, "starting a band" probably will never have a check mark beside it.

I still have this "journal" somewhere. The "list" isn't the only gem in this book, but so is my name translated in Chinese and various jedi/sith autographs from my midnight Star Wars showing days.

I've completed a lot of goals on this list , there are a lot that I never will.

I tell you this because this past week I had the opportunity to carry out one (and probably the most epic) of these goals.
- Save a life.

My donation story:
I don't know if you know this about me, but I'm an insane perfectionist. This is important.
This is important because it's how I ended up on the donor registry in the first place.

Five years ago, while still in undergrad one of my professors gave me an opportunity to earn extra credit on an exam (it was the difference between a B+ and an A), so gladly and without ANY hesitation or thought, I accepted. I carried my hiney to the student union and gave a buccal swab (basically a q-tip swabbed in your mouth) and placed my name on a bone marrow donor registry. No biggie. I got an A, all was right in the world.

Fast forward 5 years later.

I'm married.
My last name is changed.
I've had three different addresses.
I've been a nurse for three years at three different hospitals.
I've got two dogs and bills to pay.
I'm definitely not thinking about the bone marrow registry.
But apparently the registry is thinking about me.

So through CIA capabilities, I'm sure, they found me living in Lexington. I got a letter that stated I was a preliminary match for a middle aged patient with aplastic anemia. So I called them to let them know I got the letter. I definitely didn't think I would pass the health screening so I answered their questions and promptly got a call back.

"We need you to go to your local LabCorp and do confirmatory testing. We realize this is going quicker than it normally would but this patient is in a severe state and this could absolutely be the patient's last chance."

So I went.

I was a perfect match.

"Crazy, what are the odds of that?! I'm not even related to this person!" That was my first thought. Then, "OMG, I've gotta help this woman. What if she has a family? What if her daughter is getting married? What if she's about to celebrate 25 years of marriage? It's almost the holidays! What if it were my brother/mother/sister/friend?"

There was absolutely no question about the decision I was about to make.
I was absolutely going to do whatever it took to help this woman and her family.
I would want someone to do the same for mine.

A little about the diesease:

Aplastic Anemia- A disorder in which bone marrow is unable to make enough blood cells to keep you healthy. A very rare but serious disease, otherwise known as "bone marrow failure." You can treat the disease with blood transfusions and medications. However, bone marrow and stem cell transplants are required to cure the disease.  With blood transfusions alone a patient with this disease has a life expectancy of 18 months to two years, on average. With bone marrow there is a 60-90% chance of curing it. This information was obtained from a lot of reading material. Haha.

I knew/know very little about this person...just that she was a severe case of aplastic anemia, her age, her gender, and that I was her "back up donor". Apparently the first donor had backed out.

A week later, we went to Greenville for a physical. There were more needles, EKGs, radiology studies and driving.

There they found that my own hemoglobin (the red cells that carry oxygen) was too low and put me on supplemental iron for a couple of weeks.

One pint of autologous (my own blood donated to myself and coincidently the HARDEST part of this whole thing) and numerous pregnancy tests later...I've got a surgery date.

Day 1: My husband and I fly to Washington, DC to prepare for surgery. That night for my "last meal" we had Thai food with some friends from college who lived in the area. We also explored the District a bit.

Day 2: At 1130 in the morning a representative of the hospital picks me up from the hotel. There I get yet another pregnancy test and am prepared for surgery. I get a large bore IV in my right hand, kiss my husband goodbye and am promptly wheeled to the OR. The anesthesiologist looks at me and says, "Don't worry, I've got the good stuff right here" as she taps her front pocket. I start seeing bright colors and a few seconds later I wake up with a bulky bandage on my back and I'm being wheeled to recovery.

I'm told that after waking up I became ill and required nausea medication. I don't remember too much of this, thankfully.
My throat was sore (from intubation) and I had a somewhat cumbersome bandage on my lower back with a mild amount of pain.

I received a blood transfusion in PACU and required a really long time to pee, but eventually we got to our room where the hospital catered a meal of filet mignon and cheesecake with tons of strawberries and whipped cream.

This is where Timmy told me, "I saw them take away your marrow in a cooler! It was pretty neat." That made my heart smile.

I didn't sleep really well in this hospital. Mostly due to the in and out, the numerous vital sign checks, blood draws and the necessity for urination approximately every 15 minutes. I enjoyed speaking with my nurses and at the end of this hospitalization they didn't want me to leave.

Day 3: We stayed the night in the hotel again. I did pretty well...walking distances made me pretty dizzy so we took it slow. Still, not a lot of pain.

Day 4: I woke up around 0700 with a lot of nausea and had to call the doctor. She assured me this was normal with post anesthesia. So, I drank some ginger ale, took some benadryl and laid down a bit. I was able to eat a cheeseburger at the airport a few hours later. No biggie. Still, not too much pain.

We got home, I snuggled with my dogs. We promptly bought some Mickey Mouse bandaids for my  two puncture sites and settled back into life.

Yesterday I even attempted to clean the house. Ya'll know I can't let that go. I've only required two doses of tramadol (non narcotic pain medication) in the past 24 hours. Right now, I don't even feel like anything happened unless I touch the area.

Would you do this again?
I would do this a million more times if I could.  I think when we hear "bone marrow donation" a million naughty and painful images come to our heads. Really, it wasn't so bad. I mean, there is a huge needle being placed into your pelvis...but you can't even feel it.

I'm a little tired and become very slightly sore with exertion. The real test will happen tomorrow at work. 12 hours in the ER, here I come...with restrictions of course.

I don't feel like a hero. I kept getting asked if I do. However, this truly taught me what a miracle life is and how some people have to fight harder to keep it. It's taught me not to take life or health for grantid.

Mostly though, I keep thinking about this woman...whoever and wherever she is. I keep thinking that right now my bone marrow is making it's way into her bones to give her renewed hope and possibly a second chance at life. I don't know who she is, I don't know if I'll ever have to opportunity to meet her or her family. However, none of that really matters. Even if this transplant doesn't end up saving her life and my "goal" was never accomplished, I hope that this will give her more time with her family and a sense that there are people (that she doesn't even know) who are fighting with her.

To my family, friends and amazing coworkers.
Without the love and support from the people closest to me I wouldn't have been able to do any of this.  My family rallied to help with support and the care of my dogs during the trip. My friends offered me so much love and encouragement. The staff at Lexington Medical Center rallied and covered my ER shifts, gave a wonderful outpouring of love, support and offered me much needed education.

It's moments like these that you find out truly what the people closest to you are worth. I wouldn't replace a single person in my life. You are all heroes to me.

It takes more than one person to make a miracle, it takes several interactions, a lot of minds, hands and above all else: a lot of hope. I'm so glad that I had the opportunity to be used as an instrument in what can possibly be the miracle that saved a life.

To this patient: I pray that you recover, that you get to spend more time with those you love, that you keep faith and continue to have hope. We're on your side.

Sign up!
I don't have extra credit points to hand out, or chocolate, or money....but if you are able and if you want  you can sign up to be a bone marrow registry member at bethematch.org.

I really hope you will. This has truly been one of the best experiences of my life.

There are truly a million other wonderful things I can say about this program, it's goals and my experience. So if you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask.

Song of the Day: Mykonos by Fleet Foxes


  1. Hey Ashley, it's Liz...not sure if you remember me or not, you were my RA my freshman year at south tower! I saw your article on the wistv website and your story is so inspiring. I just wanted to let you know that after I read your blog, I signed up to be a donor. By possibly saving one life, you have made a much larger impact by inspiring others to be donors. You are truly a hero. Hope you are doing well. By the way, I'm a military wife as well...Air Force!

  2. Hey Ashley!

    Just wanted to let you now how touching your story is. I had Non Hodgkins Lymphoma 7 years ago and a Bone Marrow Transplant. I am actually from Irmo and went to USC. My brother was actually my perfect bone marrow match. I met so many wonderful people throughout my journey that had an unrelated donor that saved their life.

    Someone has been saved thanks to you! You are truly a hero and lifesaver to a very blessed individual.

    Thank you for your strength and inspiration to others. God Bless you!

  3. Of course I remember you Liz! I'm so glad that you've become a registry member. :) Hurray military life. Haha.

    Haley, it's so awesome that you got a BMT, you're brother is an awesome person. :) Thank you for your kind words. They mean so much to me. God Bless you!