Once in a Lifetime

Nov. 12, 2013

Once in a Lifetime

ST. LOUIS - For many students, fall break is spent vacationing with friends and family or catching up on sleep after bearing midterms. But for Erin Rasmussen, a freshman in Webster University’s School of Education, her planned visit to high school friends in Kansas City was cut short.

Rasmussen ended up in a hospital, but not because she was sick, rather because someone she had never met was ill. Rasmussen was given the slim opportunity to save someone’s life. 

As she learned earlier in the semester, her blood marrow was matched to an adult male who was suffering from leukemia. Without a donation of her bone marrow, he likely would not make it.

“I never thought it would be me who would save a life,” Rasmussen said about the experience.

The adventure started during her senior year at St. Teresa’s Academy in Kansas City, Mo. She and other classmates were invited to attend the event “18 and Swabbing” organized by two students and one teacher through Delete Blood Cancer-DKMS.  The three school representatives informed students of the registry process as a bone marrow donor and how their donation can save a life of someone in need, but also implementing the small chance of becoming a match.

The day of the event, Rasmussen questioned if she would want to participate.

“I wasn’t sure at the time if I wanted to go through the process,” she said “What are the chances that I would actually be matched?”

 After witnessing other students and friends swabbing for the chance to become a hero, she decided to participate.

Roughly four months after the drive and two weeks before she planned to come to Webster, she was contacted by Delete Blood Cancer – DKMS, who said her DNA swabbed from her cheek registered as a match to a man suffering from leukemia. That small chance that she might save a life became a unique opportunity for Rasmussen.

“My first reaction was that I couldn’t believe that I had been matched so quickly. People stay on the registry for nearly 40 years and never get contacted,” Rasmussen said. “I talked with my mom and friends about donating. I couldn’t find myself saying no.”

When fall break started, Rasmussen made a quick trip to Kansas City to see friends and to meet up with her mother. On Tuesday of the break, Rasmussen and her mother flew to Washington, D.C. for the medical procedure.

As part of the procedure, Rasmussen said, “All the blood in my body was drawn out of one side in my arm and strained through a machine and put back. It endured for seven hours.”

Erin Rasmussen as she went through the bone marrow donation process in a Washington, D.C. area hospital

The process Rasmussen refers to is called apheresis. According to the American Cancer Society, apheresis is the process of “blood being removed from a large vein in the arm that is sent through a machine removing the stem cells and then returning the blood back to the donor.” The collected stem cells are then stored until needed.

“I didn’t feel different after the procedure. I was allowed one guest so I brought my mom and we went out to dinner afterwards,” said Rasmussen. Everything was provided and paid for by Delete Blood Cancer-DKMS, including the flight to the hospital.

“I could have said no when I first read that email,” Rasmussen said. “Going through this experience, I would donate again.” Although she did not get the opportunity to meet the bone marrow recipient, she may hear from the patient someday if he chooses to reach out to her. She has elected to remain active on the donor list.

For more information on Delete Blood Cancer - DKMS, visit http://www.deletebloodcancer.org/home.html