Seabee Donates Stem Cells to Save a Life

GULFPORT, Miss. -- A Navy Seabee underwent a stem cell donation procedure at Georgetown University Hospital during the week of July 28, that may save the life of a patient diagnosed with a life-threatening blood disease.

Steelworker 2nd Class Andrew M. King, assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11, was identified as a 100 percent match for a specific patient in need of a marrow transplant three weeks ago.

King made a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation, a process that took nearly four hours to complete.   The patient's identity and the exact date of the PBSC collection are protected under federal confidentiality laws.   King, a 24-year old native of Lindstrom, Minn., was completing Navy boot camp when he became a volunteer marrow donor in 2009 through the C. W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program.

"A lot of people volunteered," said King. "They took a few cheek swabs, and that was it. It was pretty easy."   Four years later King received a call informing him that he was a preliminary match, meaning he had about a one in 10 chance of being an acceptable match, but further testing was required to which King consented. Six weeks later he got the call.   "I was very surprised," said King. "Not only was I an acceptable match, I was a 100 percent perfect match!"   King agreed to donate, and the process was set in motion. He was flown from his battalion's homeport, Gulfport, Miss., to Washington D.C. for a physical examination and further health testing, and a date was scheduled to collect stem cells from King's circulating blood.   According to the program's website, http://www.dodmarrow.org/, there are two types of donation procedures; bone marrow and PBSC. The transplant center requested that blood stem cells be collected from King's circulating blood rather than from his bone marrow thus determining the PBSC donation.   King began receiving daily injections of a synthetic hormone to increase the number of blood stem cells in his bloodstream four days prior to his scheduled donation procedure. A fifth injection took place the day of the collection. The collection process routed King's circulating blood through a machine that separates out the blood stem cells before returning the blood back to his body.   Doctors told King that the injections as well as the PBSC collection might cause body aches or headaches, but a week removed from the collection, King said he experienced no ill effects.

Due to confidentiality laws, neither the donor nor the patient was informed of one another's identity. King was told only that the patient has a blood cancer and that his donation can potentially save the patient's life.

"They said I will receive a call a year after the donation, and I can decide then if I want to know the identity of the patient and if I want the patient to know who I am," said King, who is not ready to make that decision yet.

An overnight hospital stay is the norm following a PBSC collection, but King chose to forgo that in favor of getting back to his family and his job. "I told them that wouldn't be necessary. If I need rest, I'll sleep on the flight home," said King, who also made reference to NMCB-11's upcoming deployment as a reason to hurry home.

Members who register with the C. W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program are also registered with the National Marrow Donor Program.   NMCB-11 is a Seabee battalion specializing in contingency construction, disaster response, and humanitarian assistance. The battalion's homeport is in Gulfport, Miss.

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