Being a donor
Playing sports, especially at a high level, requires sacrifice – putting aside one’s personal goals for the good of the team.
David Glen, a Penn State University hockey player, recently took the idea of sacrifice one step further.
The sophomore from Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Canada, donated blood stem cells to help an anonymous patient with leukemia.
“It was a special opportunity. I’m glad I was able to do it,” he said during a teleconference call.
Glen was a registered donor in Geisinger Medical Center’s bone marrow registry, so he knew there always was that possibility he could be called upon to donate.
And he actually was interested in making a bone marrow donation to help the mother of a Penn State lacrosse player.
He later found out he was not a match for her.
But when he found out he was a match instead for someone else, he decided he would go through with the procedure.
“It’s not that often you get a chance to give someone a second chance at life,” he said.
It was the fall of 2012 when he first learned he was a match for someone.
Then, it was a waiting game.
“I heard back from the registry in spring 2013,” he recalled.
He underwent testing to find out if was a good match, and by December he learned he would be undergoing the procedure.
Dr. Edward Gorak, co-director of the bone marrow transplant program and director of hematology malignancy at Geisinger, said after it’s determined a patient needs a bone marrow transplant, the first donors considered are siblings.
“If no sibling is a match, the next step is to turn to the bone marrow transplant registry,” he said. “We then query the data base to see if the patient has a suitable donor in the registry.”
Geisinger, he noted, is the region’s center as a stem cell collection site.
In late January, Glen received a series of injections to boost the production of the stem cells in his bones and stimulate bone marrow.
A few days later he was hooked up to a machine at Geisinger.
Gorak likens the process to that of dialysis.
His blood was circulated out of and back into his body.
“It separates stem cells from the rest of the blood,” Gorak explained. “What cells are important for the bone marrow can be identified.”
The cells then then frozen and later shipped to the recipient.
Gorak said the risk to donor is quite minimal.
Still, the procedure and its residual effects forced Glen to miss three games of his hockey season.
“I was a little tired afterwards, kind of worn down,” he recalled.
There was a very slight chance that he could have had reactions to the injections in his spleen.
“The potential benefit to the patient outweighs the risk to the donor,” Gorak said. “You have to give injections and give up some time.”
The public perception, Gorak noted, is that donors undergo the old procedure of bone marrow biopsies and pain medication.
“That is all in the past,” he said.
Glen now is back on the ice, playing the game he loves.
Last season, he was Penn State’s top scorer, although both he and the team have struggled this year.
He doesn’t know the identity of the person he may have helped – a woman in her mid 50s with leukemia.
Gorak said it’s difficult to know exactly how many people in the region are donors.
“We became a (collection) site because, for example, this hockey player would have otherwise had to travel to Philly,” he said. “It was to provide a need for our patient population.”
Glen, for his part, said he’s glad for the experience.
“I would do it again,” he said.