Thursday, December 24, 2015

i believe in miracles

I don't really distinguish between miracles and science. To me, science (especially medical science) is miraculous. The more i learn about science, the more i appreciate God's sense of design, His plans and attention to detail, His desire for us to connect to one another.

Take body donations, for example. We can donate so many different body parts after we die: organs, skin, even corneas. While alive, we can donate blood, platelets, plasma, bone marrow, stem cells, and even kidneys. Think about it: we all get two kidneys at birth, but we really only need one to survive. We get a spare, so that we can give one away if someone needs a new kidney.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, because nearly seven years ago, a group called Be The Match visited my campus. I was a college sophomore at the time, and had given blood a handful of times before. My blood giving was sometimes interrupted by my tattoos, but i gave whenever i could. But this was something entirely new.

Be The Match was asking people to join the national donor registry. They collect DNA samples to simplify the search process when someone needs bone marrow. You fill out a form, swab your cheek, and they email you a few times a year to keep you in the loop about what the organization is up to. I signed up immediately. I heard from them about a possible donation once, but mostly they left me alone.

Until about a week before my birthday.

A 39 year old man with leukemia was a match for my DNA. They can't and didn't tell me anything else about him. I told them i was still interested in donating, and we started the process. So far, i've signed a consent form and reviewed my medical history over the phone. I'm scheduled for a physical at the beginning of January, and will begin injections of filgrastim to increase the stem cells in my blood. The only real side effect to this is flu-like aches. After five days of injections, i'll be hooked up to two needles. One will draw stem cell-y blood and pass it into a machine which will filter out the stem cells, and the other will put the blood back. I've been told to expect slight soreness and extreme exhaustion for a day or two following this procedure.

After that, it's all over. Within a week, i'll be back to normal. I may or may not be asked to donate again.

I don't ever plan to have kids. I like kids a lot, especially up to the age of about four, but i don't have any desire or need to have them myself. Like when you see someone wearing a cute outfit that looks great on them but isn't at all your style: i'm happy for you that you have a baby and that you are happy with your life choices, but i'm all set over here, thanks.

But this feels a little like what i imagine it feels like to find out you are going to have a baby. To realize that your body has this amazing potential to create and sustain life; to understand that your body is going to give life to another person; to know that you will give up some measure of comfort and control, will experience pain, will give up time for doctor's visits and injections and long phone calls about your medical history; and to know that at the end of all of it, someone will receive life because of your sacrifice, is almost unbearably awesome. I am nervous about the pain. I am nervous about the stress. I am nervous about the time commitment. I am beyond thrilled to be able to do this.

I can't stop telling people about it. I realize that it's a little inelegant to do so, that it's like bragging about how charitable i am, but i can't help it. I am so in awe of the science involved (i'm getting five injections to MAKE MORE STEM CELLS! and then i'm GIVING STEM CELLS TO A PERSON SO THEY CAN LIVE!), and so thrilled to discover the power and potential of my own body. I am so glad to be able to help someone who needs it. I want so badly for more people to donate whatever body parts they can, whenever they are asked to do so, because why wouldn't you?! Who doesn't want to witness a miracle? Who doesn't want to BE a miracle?

It's a birthday miracle for me, and a Christmas miracle for this man and his family. It's science and research and medicine and technology. It's prayer and a willingness to sacrifice and serve. It's biology and chemistry. It's communication and contact. It's cotton swabs and needles.

We are all stardust. We are all stem cells.

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