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Face of Defense: Soldier Donates Marrow to Help Stranger

By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 1, 2010 – Two years ago, Army Pfc. Ted Bonham suppressed his self-described “horrible phobia of needles” and participated in a routine blood drive with his reserve unit in Knoxville, Tenn. He couldn’t have guessed then how big that gesture of generosity would become.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Pfc. Ted Bonham, a reservist with the 489th Civil Affairs Battalion in Knoxville, Tenn., sits in the Pentagon courtyard following a tour of the building while in the Washington, D.C., area to donate bone marrow through the National Marrow Donor Program, June 30, 2010. DoD photo by Lisa Daniel

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

When the technician asked if Bonham and his buddies from the 489th Civil Affairs Battalion would have their cheeks swabbed to possibly become bone marrow donors -- with the comment that they probably would never be called -- Bonham was the only one to come forward.

Today the 20-year-old is undergoing a procedure at a National Marrow Donor Program clinic here to donate his bone marrow – more specifically, his mature stem cells – to try to save the life of a man he’s never met.

“The way my luck goes, I just knew I’d be picked,” Bonham joked about the slim chance – about 1 in 100,000 – that he would become a donor match. More seriously, he said his decision to donate blood, then his bone marrow, was in line with the values his father, a regular blood donor and Army veteran, raised him with.

“It was my chance to help someone and, the way I was raised, is that you do what you can to help people,” he said.

Bonham took the test in September 2008. In March of this year, he was informed that he was a match with a man who needs a bone marrow transplant to survive cancer. By regulation of the federal donor program, Bonham can’t know anything about the recipient other than that he is 66 and lives outside the United States.

One year after the procedure, the recipient is permitted to contact the donor, and Bonham said he hopes he does. “I’d love to get a letter to see how he’s doing,” he said.

And if the stem cells don’t cure the recipient’s cancer? “I would still have no regrets for doing this,” he said. “The fact that I could give him a fighting chance is worth it to me.”

Program officials flew Bonham from his home in Clarksville, Tenn., to the Washington area on June 26. Beginning June 27, he received daily hormone shots in the back of each arm that he said “feels like fire” for about 15 minutes, and also causes pain in bones that previously have been injured -- in Bonham’s case, cracked ribs and a broken wrist.

Bonham made the trip to Washington with his roommate, Jamin Etling, a nurse who works in critical care, who will be with him during today’s procedure and when he returns to a hotel tonight.

The procedure is expected to last four to eight hours, and involves hooking Bonham up to two IVs, which will drain his blood so that clinicians can remove the needed stem cells before returning it to his body, Bonham said. The stem cells then will be delivered quickly to the patient, he said.

While Bonham undergoes his procedure, he said, he’ll be very much aware that the recipient is waiting anxiously to know if the stem cells will come through, and if they will save him. It’s in the hope of curing him, Bonham said, that he would repeat the sacrifices of donating.

“Yeah, this sucks, but nothing would stop me from doing it, and I would do it all over again,” he said.


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Related Sites:
National Marrow Donor Program


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