Needle-phobic patient donates bone marrow

By Ohr Adani

PETACH TIKVAH, Israel — When I was a little girl, my mother used to take me to the doctor regularly, just to make sure everything was all right. The standard procedure involved a simple blood test. Simple for the doctor but for me, it was a nightmare. I was terrified by syringes and needles. My mother finally managed to drag me into the nurse’s room but only amid hysterical tears, screeching, running away and full-blown tantrums that were the order of the day. By the time the blood was drawn, the nurse, the doctor, my mother and I were all worn out.

This same anxiety remained with me when I arrived at the IDF induction center two years ago. At the last station, faced with the famous army inoculation, I realized fearfully that I had no choice but to take a deep breath and hope that the terrifying process would soon be behind me. The embarrassment of throwing a tantrum at the ripe old age of eighteen overrode the fear of the shot.

As I prepared myself emotionally for the needle to be plunged into my arm, I noticed from the corner of my eye the collection station where blood samples were collected for Ezer Mizion’s Bone Marrow Registry. “No chance that I’ll go there,” was my initial reaction. “Not me!”

“It took the nurse forty minutes to calm me down and do the inoculation. When I passed by the Ezer Mizion station afterwards, I was still dizzy. I was absolutely sure that there would be no more needles for me that day, especially since the donation was optional. But, somehow, I couldn’t pass by. I would walk a few steps, backtrack, shudder and make my way, far away, from the station there. But as I would reach the next area, the scene would repeat itself. “Maybe I could save someone’s life…Probably not, though…But maybe yes…But that shot! And I’m still so weak…But someone could die…But… until I finally decided that this prick was for a very important purpose – to save lives – and that I had to do it. I gathered up my courage and …I did it.”

With time, I successfully completed the armored forces teachers’ training course and continued on to an officers’ course. During the classes, my cell phone was turned off, in keeping with the course rules. At the break, I checked my calls and noticed that someone had tried to reach me from an unfamiliar number. The same person tried to call several times over the next few weeks. One day I got a message asking me to call that number, saying that it was urgent. That doesn’t sound like telemarketing, I thought to myself.

When I called back, a soldier from the medical force told me that the sample I gave on the day of induction was found to be a perfect genetic match for someone with leukemia here in Israel . I thought that it was a practical joke and not a very funny one at that. Not every day does someone call and say you can save someone’s life. But he sounded so sincere, I began to believe it. Overwhelmed with the idea of really saving a life and terrified knowing that it must involve more of that scary stuff like shots or worse, I didn’t know what to answer. I told him I would call him back. I was stressed out by the surprising news. I decided to call my mother, whom I always went to for advice. When I told her what happened, she was so happy and excited. She told me that it’s a wonderful opportunity and suddenly, it was clear to me that I would do it. I was in the middle of the officers’ course, but I was told that the patient needs the donation immediately so I got a special authorization to miss that period of my officers’ course in order to go through the process.

I went into the donation process with open eyes, still trembling when I would think about the needles waiting to prick me, but suffused with motivation to save a life. In order to make it through this odyssey, I needed my mother, aunt and friend with me for support. They were with me all the way, and so was Ezer Mizion, who gave me emotional support and a lot of caring. At Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikvah, an Ezer Mizion representative explained the whole process I would experience. He didn’t seem to mind going over some parts three or four times till I felt comfortable with the process. Even though the main person involved was the patient, of course, Ezer Mizion didn’t make light of my needs. At the hospital, they took another sample, to be sure that I’m really a match, and then I was given an additional briefing.

At first I was nervous, but when I remembered what I was doing and why, that prevailed. I knew that if I go ahead, I might save a life, and if not, the patient might die. I couldn’t allow myself to succumb to fear. Hold tight, Ohr, I told myself. Hold tight. This is not the time to fall apart. Someone’s life is depending on you, shaky, little you.

I cried throughout the process – four days when I had to get two injections a day in order to increase the amount of bone marrow in my body. I could have backed out at any time, but despite the mild side effects I suffered from the injections, I was sure I would carry it through. Besides, if I had stopped at that point, when the patient had already begun the process preparing him for the transplant, he would have been in serious danger and might not have survived.

Today, the medical equipment used to collect the donor’s bone marrow is very advanced, and involves hardly any discomfort at all. The blood is taken from the donor through an IV hook-up, and then the machine separates the bone marrow from the blood. Since the patient was twice my weight and needed a larger donation, I had to go through the process a second time. But in the end, I did it, and the donation was transplanted to the leukemia patient a few days later.

The fear of needles is no longer a problem for me. I met my nemesis and conquered it. After encountering so many injections and needles along the way, I developed an apathy for the subject. That’s one of the fringe benefits. But my main message from the experience is much more significant. I learned that I can conquer my own needs and fears for the benefit of someone else. That’s a grand and glorious feeling. I feel that I gained even more than the patient.

I know that there are many people who are not yet in Ezer Mizion’s Bone Marrow Registry. Genetic testing is expensive and Ezer Mizion can only test as many as they are funded for. If people realized how important it was, I’m sure they would contribute generously so that more can be tested and the registry can be enlarged. After all it could be someone’s neighbor in Flatbush or his cousin in Chicago who needs the transplant. Wouldn’t he want the match to be there in the registry? Before it’s too late?

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