Stingers rally for bone marrow drive to save lives

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Jordyn Sadowski
  • 180th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
What do seat belts, immunizations, helmets and...bone marrow all have in common?

They can all save lives.

Bone marrow donation may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about helping others, but it's a critically important one.

Airmen from the 180th Fighter Wing participated in a two-day bone marrow registration drive in support of the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program, also known as, Salute to Life, Jan. 10-11, 2015, at the Ohio Air National Guard Base in Swanton, Ohio.

In the time it takes most smart phones to auto-lock, another person is diagnosed with some form of life-threatening blood cancer. That's roughly one every four minutes, according to the National Marrow Donor Program website. Of those diagnosed with blood diseases, such as leukemia or lymphoma, 70 percent are unable to find a match within their family, forcing them to rely on the selfless donation of a stranger. 

They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words, but a harsh picture is the reality that approximately 1,000 people will die each year because they'll fail to find a bone marrow match, according to the Institute of Justice website.

For almost 25 years, the Salute to Life program has been working with active duty, National Guard, Reserve, military dependents and Department of Defense civilian employee, building a database of donors and enabling marrow matches. More than 800,000 people have joined the National Marrow Donor Registry through this program, taking the first step to saving a life.

Service before self, a fundamental Air Force value, is the selfless act of serving your country, community and even strangers you might never meet to ensure the safety and protection of all. The united service of our military creates a unique family, a family that sacrifices their safety for the defense of others. But, who saves our service members?

Salute to Life has been able to match more than 6,000 individuals of the DOD with bone marrow and stem cell donations, providing them a second chance at life.

"The Salute to Life program is amazing because it's the DOD helping DOD, military saving military," said Chief Master Sgt. Robert Calhoon, 180th FW Maintenance Operations Squadron superintendent.

Calhoon orchestrated the Salute to Life registration drive after hearing from an Airman about his donation experience with the program. He hopes to organize another marrow registration drive in the future after the success of the first one. More than 100 members from the 180th FW registered with the swab of a mouth, adding their name to the registry, going above and beyond their call of duty.

Staff Sgt. Nathan Abbott, the Airman who inspired the marrow registration drive, first heard about the program in 2001 while stationed at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, when he was a member of the active duty Air Force.

Abbott, a munitions craftsman in the 180th FW Maintenance Group, considers donation a moral responsibility and the logical answer for those in need of help.

"I feel it's my duty to at least attempt to help a person if I am able, and that's why I feel so compelled to donate each and every time a match is found for me, and I will continue to do so." Abbott said.

Having already donated stem cells once through the program, Abbott has been contacted twice about positive matches for bone marrow donation. Although the Salute to Life has found closer matches for the two patients, Abbott wouldn't hesitate for a second if he was called to donate again.

"Helping other service members is the most important thing we can do in my opinion, besides the mission, that's why we're here," Abbott said. "I, in no way think that what I did deserves praise of any kind, I'm just one of many thousands who have donated and feel compelled to help someone if able."

Airmen at the 180th FW agree with Staff Sgt. Abbott, participating in the drive is about helping their fellow service members, regardless of what uniform they have on.

"Whether it's someone's kid, family member or even myself, being in the military is a kind of family, it's the same thing," said Master Sgt. Christopher Gerrell, a munitions systems journeyman out of the 180th Maintenance Group. "I feel as if all of the people in the military are my brothers and sisters, as if they were my blood relatives."

Gerrell, an active blood donor, decided to register at the drive after putting himself in the shoes of others. "I figure, every chance I can help to save a life, I will. I know if it was my child or parent or pretty much anyone, I'd want to know people are doing what they can to help out."

Salute to Life continues to bring together those DOD "family" members, the ones in need of a marrow donation with the ones who have taken "service before self" one step further, and registered as a donor. Bone marrow donation can potentially be an extensive and painful process with a recovery period of up to two to four weeks.

Donating marrow happens in one of two ways: a traditional hip bone marrow extraction involving a large needle and general anesthesia, or a Peripheral Blood Stem Cell donation. The PBSC method includes the use of a drug called, filgrastim, which allows the bone to release and push stem cells into the blood for removal, according to the National Marrow Donor Program website.

"Enduring an amount of pain to save someone's life, this is the definition of service before self, the essence of the commitment that 180th FW Airmen make to the nation every day," said 180th Fighter Wing Commander, Col. Craig Baker. "The selfless acts of our Airmen who registered at the drive inspires me to put my uniform on every day."

Master Sgt. Charles Wasnich, a munitions craftman, believes the reward of being able to save a life when called upon outshines the possibility of any pain because it allows him to serve others.

"This is about people helping people," said Wasnich, who registered for the first time at the 180th's drive on Jan. 11, 2015. "I'm hoping that my name does get selected as a match, because I know I am helping someone."

Hoping he gets selected so he can serve others? Sounds like the familiar ring of the oath every military member takes when he or she decides to put service before self and answer their nation's call to duty.

Adding their names to the Registry, Airmen of the 180th Fighter Wing came together once again to serve their country. However, this time, they stand united to serve the ones who wear the uniform beside them.

"The 180th FW Airmen make me the proudest I have ever been in my career, these Airmen continually put others before themselves," Baker said.

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