The Gift of Life

3 Sep

After months of silence, I am now writing to share a truly extraordinary experience. It has taken me many weeks to process it, emotionally and spiritually. There was some physical effort as well!
It has been my privilege to save another person's life, in a way I never imagined possible.
This all happened in truly surprising and wonderful ways.

More than 16 years ago, I registered to be a Bone Marrow Donor. It seemed a good idea at the time. It just involved having a blood test and some records were taken. I forgot about it all.

About 6 weeks ago I received a letter from the Bone Marrow Registry—who had been trying to find me for a little while, as I have shifted house and changed my work phone numbers I don't know how many times.
But they found me, and told me that by computer matching they have established I am a match for a person who needs a bone marrow transplant. I went in for lots of tests, and they began informing me about what would be involved if all the tests came back clear.
They thought that might take 6 weeks or so, but in fact within three weeks they rang me to say that I am in fact a really good match and they had a date, two weeks hence, and would like to go ahead if I was still up for it.
So suddenly it all became very real and I had to decide whether to do it or not. There would be some pain and inconvenience, and they were very careful to explain to me all the possible side-effects of the process. So caring and so care-ful!
I didn't need to think about if for too long. The base line is this: I thought about one or two friends and colleagues who have advanced cancer (in fact one had died already and one has since died). I thought: if I was them, I would really want the donor to go ahead with it. So I did.
As the time got closer, it became more and more personal. It is emotional, even to write about it now.

Just before the donation, the person who was guiding me through it all, Tanya, asked me if I wanted to know about the recipient. I said only that it would help me to know a little, such as their gender. I said that I wanted to pray for them and I find it hard to pray for an 'it'.
She then told me that she too is a Christian, and indeed she attends a Baptist church I know quite well.
She told me the recipient is a woman in another state, who has Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and her age. She is clearly fairly unwell.
So the process began. The preferred procedure these days is not to take the bone marrow, by the big needle into the hip bone (very painful!, and invasive) but to take stem cells from my blood. These are bone marrow stem cells and will then be transplanted into the recipient's blood stream for them to grow new bone marrow.
So they needed to stimulate my body to over-produce bone marrow, and for that purpose I had four days of injections given to me by my wife (a doctor) at home. The result was to cause my bone marrow to work over-time, and this did induce some pain. Not really bad, but once or twice it woke me in the night, and caused an overall discomfort for the four days.
On the fourth night I was just emotionally over-wrought. I cried, I think with fear that it might not work out, and with a deep and unspoken longing for it to come to fruition. Like a woman, longing for the birth of her child. Like Jesus, longing that his destiny should be fulfilled.

By the Monday morning, my white cell count was through the roof, as if I had leukemia. That was the objective.
Then, at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, I was attached to a machine which extracted my blood from one arm and separated out the white cells and from them the stem cells, and put the red cells and some anti-clotting fluid back into my other arm. They transfused my entire blood supply three times, and this whole process took 4 and a half hours.
I had to entertain myself for this time, and frankly it was all so very interesting. Not one of the expected side effects of the process occurred during the time, except for a numb bum towards the end. In terms of just sitting there it was not unlike a medium length plane flight.
So they took my stem cells. Then it was a matter of waiting for analysis to see if they had enough. That took another 4 hours. By that time I was home in bed, sleeping. It was all pretty tiring.
Good news! They rang me to say they had more than enough. I would not need to come back for another go the next day.

So the next day I just stayed home resting, while a nurse from the hospital flew interstate to deliver my stem cells to that poor woman in need.
As one of the hospital specialists said to me: You are saving a life.

What an experience! For me, there are follow-up tests, to check for possible implications of the over-stimulation of my bone marrow, at three months and then each year for five years. There are no known cases of these possible effects, but they just want to be careful. I see it as a contribution to science. And at the first check-up they will tell me how my lady is going.

I have thought and prayed about this a lot.
When my Mum was dying, 9 years ago now, I thought about the fact that she gave me life.
This is I think my most basic concept of God: the giver of life.
But I am not a life-giver. I have never thought of myself as a life-giver. I help people, and try to do so with all my being. But my help is basically with my ideas, my words, my encouragement and guidance.
Yet here I am discovering that my BODY, my flesh and blood, literally my blood, is useful to someone. Indeed, I have saved a life!

The Word became flesh: the ever-living One, the giver of life, the source of all living, —as Moltmann puts it, the life of all the living: became flesh, and gave his flesh, his blood. And through his flesh and blood, we have life.
My spiritual discipline right now is to embrace these truths as immediate and practical realities, truths, and to accept that I am in fact part of this. I have done this.
It reduces me to tears of joy and yearning, for that person battling for life. May God's peace sustain her: into life, even life eternal.

3 thoughts on “The Gift of Life

  1. Thank you Frank, not only for a thoughtful insight into a process I knew so little about but also for sharing the spiritual dimensions of the journey you have been through. May God bless the recipient of your stem cells and may God bless you for the courage you have shown in submitting to the process and sharing your journey.

  2. Thank you Frank, just wanted to share the impact of reading your words. It is enormous. I feel like my shoes are off and I have walked on holy ground. Seems you felt this in the giving too …. the stuff of sacredness and grace and Life.
    As I’ve read this and your next on “Friends, memories and regrets”, it seems the two are linked. You may or may not be the sort of friend you admire and are describing in the next, but I think the above shows you as the unique and particular friend that you, Frank Rees, authentically are, and are able to be. Can any of us/should any of us be more or less than that … simply, authentically, naturally, wholeheartedly … ourselves? (Of course I’m not saying we’re perfect as we are but i think that simply, as we are, the grace of God works transforming us/using us to be God’s life – incarnate love, bread and wine, the blood and life of Christ for our world, in your case quite physically so.
    I think it is no wonder you would find this enormously impacting, that you would weep as Jesus wept … you have been graced to call someone forward to hope and the possibility of new life, to unwrap, is it too much to say, Lazarus’ bindings of despair and death. Surely this is the stuff of friendship.

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