Face of Defense: Navy Officer Donates Marrow, Saves Life
By Air Force Staff Sgt. Jared Marquis
Defense Information School
FORT MEADE, Md., Dec. 1, 2011 During the holidays, people all over the country spend time with family, eating, watching football and enjoying the opportunity to reflect and give back.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. John T. Schofield goes through final preparations for bone marrow transplant surgery at Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, D.C., Nov. 21, 2011. Schofield's bone marrow matches that of a seriously ill 57-year-old patient. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. John T. Schofield, a 15-year military veteran, is doing much the same thing, save one difference. Three days before Thanksgiving, Schofield was in a hospital undergoing a procedure to extract his bone marrow.
While the procedure usually takes no more than two hours, Schofield’s path toward becoming a bone marrow donor started more than two years ago.
In July 2009, Schofield was stationed aboard the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, USS George H.W. Bush. The ship’s senior medical officer asked him to market a marrow-donor registration drive for the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program.
The goal was to add to the more than 622,000 people already in the system. Already a regular donor of blood and platelets, Schofield not only was willing to help publicize the event, he also registered. Nearly three years and two moves later, the instructor and Navy element commander at the Defense Information School here got the call he never expected.
“They called me early last month and told me I had been identified as a potential match for someone in need of a bone-marrow donation,” he said.
Until that call, Schofield said, he had forgotten he had registered in the system. But that did not change his willingness to give.
“From the second I received that call two and a half months ago until this very moment, it has been hard for me to think of anything else,” the Salt Lake City native said.
Schofield said donating a part of himself to someone for a lifesaving procedure is one of the most meaningful things he has done. He knew from the moment he got that phone call he wanted to donate, he added, and his only fear was not being able to. This fear followed him throughout the next couple of phases of the process.
Being matched in the database does not guarantee a donor’s marrow will work, Schofield explained. It takes several more tests before the donor is identified as both physically and medically capable of donating. Just getting a preliminary match to a nonrelative is a one in a million chance, said Schofield. It was still only a one in a hundred chance he would actually be able to donate.
But after all the follow-up tests, Schofield got the news he hoped for. The donation was a go.
A month passed from the time he got the first phone call to the time he went into the operating room. That didn’t give Schofield much time to worry, but he didn’t do a lot of worrying anyway, he said. His wife and children were a different story.
Susan Schofield, who also is on the registry, said she was concerned at first, because she wasn’t really sure what was involved. But, she added, her husband put her at ease with his assurances that the surgery was not dangerous and he would be fine.
With his wife’s fears calmed, it was time to focus on the children -- three boys, ages 3, 5 and 7 -- who were not particularly aware of what was taking place, Schofield said.
“They knew daddy was going to the hospital, and would be home in a couple of days,” Susan said.
“The only question they really had was, ‘Will it hurt?’” Schofield said. “Once I assured them it wouldn’t, they were fine.”
In addition to easing his family’s concerns, Schofield used the opportunity to teach his kids it is important to help out those in need.
“I feel that this transplant sets a good example for my kids in that I want them to see at a very early age that kindness and service are very good things,” he said. “It doesn’t take a lot of work. … Just being available and being willing is sometimes all it takes to save someone’s life.”
That lesson, and motivating people to do their part, is why Schofield volunteered for the registry. Now that he is out of the hospital, he said, he is humbled by all the appreciation he received from the doctors and nurses following the surgery. But as much as he appreciates it, he said, it was not necessary.
Schofield said the 57-year old patient needed his marrow for a chance at life. There never really was a choice for him, he said.
“[It] doesn’t seem to me that it’s something you should be thanked for,” Schofield said. “It is something you should do.”
Post-surgery, Schofield’s goal is to raise awareness for the marrow-donor program.
“The process is so simple,” he said. “It took mere minutes to register. There is nothing about this that was difficult." And the pain, said Schofield, who spent one night in the hospital, was minimal.
“At its worst, the pain was no more than what I would have after a day spent raking leaves,” he said. The average recovery time is about two weeks, but Schofield said he is able to do pretty much everything he could do before the surgery.
Schofield added that he hopes more people come forward to volunteer their marrow. The experience has affected him profoundly, he said.
“When you break it down, you are availing yourself to someone for a lifesaving procedure,” Schofield said. “I really don’t think I’ll have that opportunity to do something that special again.”
For her part, Susan said the experience has motivated her to be a donor. She already was on the registry, but after experiencing the process through her husband, she said, she hopes to get the same call. Her aunt was a marrow donor recipient, she noted, but they were never able to find a complete match, and she hopes to be that complete match for someone else.