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Face of Defense: Airman’s Donation Saves Life

By Joe N. Wiggins
American Forces Press Service

BROOKS CITY-BASE, Texas, Aug. 20, 2010 – When most airmen come into the Air Force, they know their service could include being called upon to do something that could save a life. However, one airman answered the call in a way very few could.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Only a few hours after donating bone marrow to a critical patient, Air Force Staff Sgt. Charles F. Newberry recovers Aug. 11, 2010, in his Washington, D.C., hospital room. Newberry said his recovery was fast, and he was walking around the day after his surgery. U.S. Air Force photo

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

Air Force Staff Sgt. Charles Newberry, a personnel specialist assigned to the 311th Air Base Group's military personnel flight here, volunteered in 2007 to register as a bone marrow donor. His decision recently saved the life of a servicemember's 2-year-old child.

"While I don't know his name, as soon as I heard who it was, and that he has a rare condition called aplastic anemia, I thought, 'Yeah, I'll gladly do what I can to help out the little guy,'" Newberry said.

Aplastic anemia causes bone marrow to produce an insufficient amount of red and white blood cells or blood platelets. A bone marrow transplant can be the only effective treatment in severe cases.

When he became aware of what his donation could mean, Newberry said, he was eager to volunteer.

"I was surprised when I found out I was a match, but helping someone else's child was clearly something I wanted to do," he said. "My wife and mom were a little skeptical about the operation, but I think my enthusiasm won them over, and they were both supportive of me being a donor."

Newberry's organization and supervisor also were behind his decision.

"I thought his volunteering was very admirable, and a great thing to be willing to do," said Air Force Capt. Troy Lane, commander of the personnel flight. "I was impressed with his excitement to do it."

Newberry said the procedure wasn't very painful or lengthy.

"The surgeons removed the marrow from my lower back after the first day of tests and screening at the hospital," he said. "I was up and walking around the next day and only had to wear some small bandages for about a week."

In addition to his family, Newberry said, the military community also was supportive. "In addition to being given time off from my duty location, [Defense Department officials] sponsored my flight and expenses," he said. "I went through a process of questions and phone interviews before leaving for the trip, but once everything was approved there was no cost involved for me or my family."

Newberry is one of about 500 servicemembers who are matched to a patient and donate bone marrow each year. About 600,000 servicemembers have registered as marrow donors as part of the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program.

Volunteers like Newberry are critical for many patients awaiting a match. According to the National Marrow Donor Program, about 70 percent of those needing a transplant do not have a matching donor in their family. Usually used to fight leukemia and lymphoma, a bone marrow donation often is a victim's last chance at beating a potentially fatal disease.

More than 10,000 patients each year are diagnosed with these life-threatening diseases. A patient's doctor can contact the program's database of 8 million potential donors in the United States and another 5 million potential donors in international registries.

The C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Center is located in Rockville, Md., and is charged with supporting Defense Department bone marrow volunteers. It is one of 79 donor centers that work with the National Marrow Donor Program.

Established by Congress in 1990, the Defense Department program is open to any military member or civilian and their family members, including Coast Guard and reserve-component members, in good health between the ages of 18 and 60.


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Related Sites:
C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program


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