Not many people can say they’ve saved someone’s life. But Washington native Matt Rau can — after he donated lifesaving bone marrow to a person in need.
Because of confidentiality guidelines, specific dates or a time line can’t be revealed.
It all started just over a year ago at the Washington Town and Country Fair. A friend of Rau’s was manning a DKMS Americas bone marrow registry booth and asked Rau to sign up.
A quick cheek swab and some information was all it took for Rau, a 2008 graduate of Washington High School, to join the worldwide list of potential bone marrow donors.
Ever four minutes someone is diagnosed with blood cancer. Every 10 minutes blood cancer takes a life.
Bone marrow transplants provide treatments for patients with leukemia and other blood disorders by replacing their unhealthy marrow with healthy blood forming cells.
The possibility of finding a match is very low. Six of 10 patients will not receive the lifesaving treatment they need.
The donor and patient must have at least eight out of 10 tissue characteristics in common.
With more than 4,000 known characteristics that can occur in millions of combinations, finding a match is “extremely rare,” according to literature provided by DKMS.
When Rau signed up for the registry, he was living in Florida, attending Embry-Riddel Aeronautical University. When he got the call that he was a match, he had already transferred to the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Rau admits he didn’t think much of joining the list, until his old roommate called to tell him he had a piece of mail marked “urgent.”
At first, Rau said he was “confused” about the process, but not really scared. A longtime donor of both blood and plasma, Rau he wondered how different it could really be.
“A lot of people make a big deal out of (the donation) but I just thought if I can help somebody I should do it, ” he said. “I never considered not doing it.”At 21, he said he knew he was healthy enough to donate, and to him, the choice was obvious.
“They (at DKMS) were very good about telling me that I didn’t have to do it,” he said. “The way DKMS treated me gave me the feeling that I would be taken care of. Any nerves or misgivings I had — they took care of it all.”
After committing to the donation, Rau went through a battery of tests to make sure he was a match.
For four days leading up to the donation and on the day of, Rau received injections of filgrastim to increase the number of cells in his bloodstream.
Meanwhile, the patient he would donate to was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation to completely wipe out his or her immune system in order to accept the new, healthy cells.
Rau completed a peripheral blood stem cell donation, one of two donation methods. This procedure requires blood to be removed from one arm and passed through a machine that separates out the blood stem cells.
Blood is then returned to the donor through the other arm.
For eight hours, Rau was hooked up to a machine, which he described as “uncomfortable,” but not unbearable. He slept on the way home, but said he was feeling “pretty much OK.” He didn’t miss any days of class.
The only alteration he had to make to his normal routine was that he couldn’t work out for a few days because of soreness. He was reimbursed for everything, including gas to get to the St. Louis hospital.
Rau encourages people to join the registry, noting his experience was “simple and easy.”
One “cool” aspect of the donation, Rau noted, is that you save a specific person’s life.
“This directly affects one person. I was (their) only match,” he said. “It’s not like they have backup matches.”
He added that if his patient did not receive the cells he or she would not have lived.
Rau knows nothing of his patient other than their sex and that they had a form of leukemia.
“But that person now has the same blood type as me,” he said. “I know I helped that person. It was worth it.”
Rau even said he would do it again.
One year after the donation, the donor and the patient are allowed to meet, but Rau said he won’t try to contact his patient.
“It’s cool to have blind help for someone,” he said. “I know if I needed help someone would help me.”
You Can Too
A DKMS bone marrow registry booth will again be set up at the Washington Town and Country Fair Thursday through Saturday, Aug. 4-6, from 1 to 8 p.m. for people to sign up to be on the international bone marrow registry.
Certain requirements must be made before signing up for the registry.
Those who can not register at the Washington Town and Country Fair can still visit the Web site and request a swab kit.
To view the requirements or for more information about DKMS, people may visit www.getswabbed.org or call 866-340-DKMS.
Rau is the son of Michael and Andrea Rau of Washington.