Mildenhall-based airman helping leukemia patient
June 23, 2008
RAF MILDENHALL, England – Maj. Chad Erickson was a little uneasy about an operation scheduled this week to sift healthy bone marrow from his blood to later be given to an anonymous 16-year-old girl suffering from leukemia.
It’s not so much the six-hour operation or the hormone shots administered beforehand to boost his stem-cell levels. His mind was on schoolwork.
"I am a little hesitant. I have a final due that week," the RAF Mildenhall airman said laughing. He’s taking a class on national security for his master’s degree.
Erickson, 35, of the 100th Operations Support Squadron, registered into the Defense Department’s marrow program three years ago.
"I thought if I had any ounce of humanity in me, I could help somebody out," the squadron’s assistant director of operations said Friday. "It seems that all the people who need the bone marrow transplants are in dire situations."
Since its creation in 1986, roughly six million people including more than 400,000 servicemembers have registered as marrow donors within the National Marrow Donor Program, which the DOD service falls under, according to its Web site.
In April, DOD program screeners contacted Erickson to see if he was interested in helping the girl.
"They leave it totally open," he said of the no-pressure program.
He accepted and had further tests to determine if he was a match and physically fit for the operation.
On Saturday, he flew to Washington, D.C., to begin a week-long stay at the George Washington University Medical Center. He hopes to be back to work the following week.
Erickson is expected to have an apheresis operation, the method of drawing blood from an arm and returning it once stem-cell rich particles have been retained.
"It pulls the particles out and then gives you the rest of your blood back," he said of the transfusion process.
Blood stem cell transplants are recommended for patients who have undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatment, which kills the abnormal bone marrow. Healthy stem cells are given to the patient, allowing healthy new blood cells to develop.
Following the operation, Erickson and his recipient can send anonymous gifts to each other. After a year, the program offers closure by allowing the parties to make contact, he said.
"I’ll release my name and if she wants to contact me she can," he said. "I want to respect her privacy."
Donating bone marrow to an ailing family member or friend is one thing. To a stranger is entirely something else, said Erickson’s commander, Lt. Col. Bret Frymire.
Frymire knows from personal experience. He has a good friend with leukemia and was about to have his bone marrow tested until a family member stepped in.
"When it hits home, it’s easier for you to go out and do it, which is why I think it’s pretty neat that somebody does it for a complete stranger," he said.
On Friday, Erickson sat at his desk finishing up some last-minute work before his trip. He pried himself away from the computer momentarily to highlight the DOD program.
"It’s a fairly easy process," he said. "It’s a little pain for a lot of gain for the other person."
To check for bone marrow drives in your area or for more information on the DOD bone marrow program, visit http://www.dodmarrow.org.