Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Dear Anonymous Allogeneic Bone Marrow Transplant Donor

Dear my umbilical cord stem cell transplant donor:

Nine years ago, frozen stem cells that had been collected from your umbilical cord were thawed and transfused into my vein intravenously. I had just undergone one week of obliteration, rocketing me to the edge of death, and your stem cells were to transport me back. We hoped your cells would repopulate my empty bones, kill any remaining leukemic cells, and produce adequate haematopoietic stem cells for normal functioning. If they failed then more obliteration would ensue followed by an attempt with someone else’s stem cells, assuming a new match could be found. However, already at the edge of death and having had received a lifetime (or several) of treatment, my organs could then only tolerate a “mini-transplant,” leading to a greatly reduced probability of long-term grafting. You were my great, red hope.

After a few weeks your stem cells produced a thousand neutrophils per unit of measure. After a few months, a sustainable level for all three blood lines: platelets, white and red cells. After six months, your cells changed my blood type from A+ to O+. After a couple years I received all my inoculations. After a couple more years I stopped getting colds as immunity strengthened. Now, they’re my stem cells, too.

Your mother’s consent to store your umbilical cord stem cells instead of discarding them helped save a stranger’s life. I thought you would want to know, so I tried contacting you. Unfortunately, I can’t because there is no contact information database; it’s unreasonable to maintain active numbers and addresses for thousands of donors. Also, you are a minor who had no say in if or how your cells would be used, an ethical dilemma.

I know little about you: you are female, twelve or thirteen years old, were born in New York, and have the blood type O+. I can gather more since our blood is identical: your white blood cells are in the high range considered normal, your platelets are normal, and your red cells are low. This is because you have a genetic trait found mostly in people of Mediterranean descent that makes you anemic, which I inherited. So I guess we’ll never climb Mount Everest. That was my life goal, too, just behind living way past 19. You’re lucky those priorities aren’t reversed.

I can guess more about you: I have many allergies so you may, too. Advil would send me to the ER, so I’ll just have to request oxycodone instead. Though cheese and baked goods are fine, milk and ice cream are near ER-worthy. Do you, too, feel rage towards Dairy Queen for not being accommodating by offering almond ice cream strawberry shortcake? Somebody get me the DQ CEO’s phone number. I bet his contact information is available.

I bet you’re healthy and never heard of cancer. My new immune system may be stronger than my original, and if my Ewing’s sarcoma was ever going to recur then I like to think your cells squashed that possibility. In that sense you may have saved me multiple times, though I’d never know.

I can fictionalize even more about you. To save money, your family moved to New Jersey. The commute stressed your father, who then verbally abused your mother, who then divorced your father and married Ray Liotta. Only it was a Ray Liotta impersonator, so your mother sued for defamation. Only fake Ray Liotta has no money, but does have a lot of oxycodone. They settled outside of court.

You have an IQ several standard deviations above normal, which I presume based on my little girl bone marrow solving advanced mathematical proofs and speaking several languages, including brat-speak. That reminds me, you also have an attitude problem that was incorrectly diagnosed as ADHD. You receive a steady supply of Adderall which you trade for oxycodone.

You hate all Ray Liotta movies except Goodfellas. You keep this a secret from your mom. You love oxycodone. You do not keep this a secret from your step dad.

You aspire to join the war on cancer by studying the properties of abyssal zone species for potential molecularly targeted chemotherapies. After earning your third doctorate at 19 years old, you will take your first dive. But you won't use any Deepsea Challenger like James Cameron. You’re first inventing biotechnology that will allow you to withstand the temperature, pressure, acid and lack of oxygen at those ocean depths. You’re also a braggart, so you’ll be submarining naked just to show that you can.

Your research will change the world. You will identify key-like components that lock into cancer cells that not only prevent reproduction, but also tap into the tumor’s resources to extend human life and reduce aging. Cancer is us, in its perfect, undying, accelerated version, and you will turn the tables on the disease.

I wish to meet you someday, and those cards are actually in your hands: if you meet all of the previously-mentioned identity traits (excluding anything to do with Ray Liotta, narcotics or your future self), then you are likely my donor. It would be unlikely that anyone else whose mother donated her cord also fits that description. Please contact me so I can properly thank you and your whackjob mother for saving me. At the least I'd like to acquire some oxycodone.

With love, hugs and kisses not in any pedophile-type way whatsoever,


Anonymous said...

This brought tears to my eyes. 9 months ago my first grandbaby was born. I nagged my daughter incessantly throughout the pregnancy to donate the cord blood! She did, YAY!
It was very expensive to store for potential family use at a later date so it was donated. What a blessing to envision how it may have ended up saving a life. You rock!
Thanks so much for your story :-)

Benjamin Rubenstein said...

Thanks for sharing that story, and I expect the cord will be used to try to save a life. Take care.