Airman answers call to donate bone marrow
June 13, 2006
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — It took about five years for doctors to locate a possible match, but a 730th Air Mobility Squadron crew chief was whisked away last month to donate bone marrow at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Staff Sgt. Roy Eilenstine, 26, of Mountain Grove, Mo., says he was inspired to have his name in the National Marrow Donor Program’s Registry about five years ago after his grandmother died of cancer. He wanted to give other people with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood diseases a shot at recovery.
“She got a bone marrow transplant,” he said. “I figured if someone could give her a chance, I could do it for somebody else.”
Eilenstine, who’s trained as a crew chief on C-5 and C-17 aircraft, took the first step toward becoming an anonymous donor in 2001 during a registry drive at Davis- Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.
Normally, a small blood sample or swab of cheek cells is taken and tested to determine the donor’s tissue type. Once that information is added to the NMDP Registry, it becomes available to doctors searching for a match for their patients.
Eilenstine’s wait ended in April when he was brought in to provide several additional samples. Those are taken from the arm; the bone marrow donation itself comes from the pelvic bones.
Eilenstine was granted three-week permissive temporary duty status to undergo the May 15 procedure at Georgetown, which took about five hours, required anesthesia and included a recovery spell in post-op.
“The biggest part for me was whether it’d hurt or not,” Eilenstine said. “But it turned out not to be that bad. I had a little soreness but not really pain.”
His wife, Kimberly, a secretary at Yokota’s 374th Operations Group, took leave to accompany her husband to Washington.
“I respected his choice to become a donor and gave him my full support,” she said. “I am also on the registry for the National Marrow Donor Program and signed up the same time as Roy … I encourage everyone to register.”
According to the NMDP’s Web site at www.marrow.org, a transplant replaces a patient’s unhealthy blood cells with healthy blood-forming cells from a volunteer donor. Potential donors must be 18-60 and meet health guidelines — but finding a match is no small task.
“It’s a pretty big deal and not every day you come up with a match for someone,” said Tech. Sgt. Gerald Best, Eilenstine’s supervisor at the 730th Air Mobility Squadron. “It’s a pretty rare occurrence from what I’ve seen.
“I was stationed with a guy in Ellsworth whose sister had leukemia. I saw what he went through. It can be pretty difficult when you’re not even guaranteed your own sibling is a match. For him to step up and be a match with anybody, I think it’s great.”
According to donor guidelines, Eilenstine and the recipient can try to track each other down next year, but the airman says he hasn’t decided if he’ll attempt contact.
Following the bone marrow procedure, Eilenstine couldn’t do any heavy lifting on the flight line or run for two weeks. He’s back to normal now but must wait at least six months before donating a second time.
“My name is still in the registry as a potential donor,” he said. “If it came up, I would do it again.”