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My moment to feel important

Posted 10-01-2009 at 09:29 AM by Jude Rosenstock

Yesterday at 6pm, I got a call from DKMS. The moment the caller identified herself, I wondered if I missed my next appointment. I said, "It's not until next week, right? I have your letter right here, I'm sure it says next week!" She affirmed and explained that the reason she was calling was to tell me my appointment had been cancelled. The patient had died.

It all started last March. I had left the gym with Steve and decided, as I sometimes do, to walk him back to Port Authority. After dropping him off, I decided to get pizza in Times Square and since I was eating alone, reading material was in order. I saw a newspaper stand across the street, purchased the Daily News and got my pizza. To no surprise, the pizza was horrible.

I opened the paper to page three and my eye was immediately drawn to the story about a "Greenwich Village Girl". My family moved there when I was 3 years old. My entire childhood since then was centered around Thompson and Houston. What if I knew her parents? What if I knew her teachers? I raced through the article looking for all the facts. Like I did more than 20 years ago, she attended P.S. 41. She was dying of Leukemia and because she was adopted and had no contact with her genetic family, a bone marrow match was unlikely.

People often talk about being chosen to do something. They say it like there was divine intervention with words like, "Jesus told me" or "I felt this was my fate." I'm not religious nor do I believe my path is laid-out before me but at that moment, in that pizzeria, with this tasteless cheese and runny sauce dripping from my chin, I suddenly felt compelled to act. Memories of elementary school, playing in the ballfield, finger painting, learning math all racing through my head. I felt every child should be entitled to such experiences. I promised myself I would go to the bone marrow drive that weekend.

I showed up for the bone marrow drive at my old elementary school and it was a circus! I was beside myself! Thousands of people showed, hundreds waiting in line to get inside. Celebrities manning the lines. Press circling the affair, snapping photos, asking questions. I was pleased. I didn't know anything about leukemia or bone marrow transplants but figured this was a bonafide good effort. I got in line and prepared myself for what I thought would be a long wait.

In no more than five minutes I was inside my old cafeteria, sitting at a lunch table I was probably once familiar with and talking to a DKMS representative. A few minutes later, my forms were filled out, my DNA sample taken and I was out the door. Done. I did my part. My DNA, my saliva, was to be entered into a database and matched up with patients in need. If I was a match, they said they'd contact me in about 4 weeks.

I forgot about it. I have my own busy schedule. My job, my pool game. It was Spring 2009 and my trip to Las Vegas for the BCA Championships consumed my thoughts. Who doesn't love Vegas in May? Then on the 7th day of my trip, I got my first call from them. I was a match.

"He's a 41 year old male. Your DNA sample revealed you might be a good match. Can you come in for blood tests?"

The moment I was back in New York City, I was getting blood drawn. Four vials from my left arm (my non-pool shooting arm). It was amazingly painless and fast. I felt silly for being nervous. "We'll contact you in two weeks to confirm that you're a match and to let you know if you have any diseases", a nice plus.

I knew I was going to be a match. In fact, I knew I was going to be a match when I was eating pizza in Times Square. I can't say how I knew but I did. I also knew I didn't have any diseases so when they confirmed in two weeks, I wasn't at all surprised. At this point, it was all a matter of scheduling. What type of donation would it be? When would it happen?

It turns out there are two types. About 20% of the time, it's actual bone marrow. That's when they take a thick needle and ram it into your pelvic bone and draw marrow right from there. Apparently, it used to be very painful but modern anesthesia (I saw it on youtube) has made this far more comfortable. I figure, if the 12 year old girl on youtube could do it, so could I. The other 80% has what's called a Periphery Blood Stem Cell donation. Since this didn't involve piercing my pelvic bone with a needle that would even make East Village kids cringe, I was hoping this would be the way to go.

Unfortunately, the donation was put on hold. The exact reason wasn't given since I'm deliberately left in the dark. The optimist in me hoped his condition improved and treatment wasn't necessary at this point but still, I was disappointed that we couldn't get on with it. So there I was in June without any knowledge of anything until a week ago.

"Hello, may I speak to Jude?"

I recognized the number immediately. They asked me if I would still be interested in donating, that it would be a PBSC donation and that it would happen in October. I confirmed without hesitation, "Of course. I made that decision in March." For lack of a better word, I was excited. The word "important" never meant so much before. I sat on the phone for 40 minutes with them as they explained how the procedure would go.

"The patient will undergo preparation for the donation. They're going to have their entire immune system wiped out so that they can accept yours."

Wow. This person is going to have MY immune system. I wasn't allowed to know anything about this person other than he was a 41 year old male who had Myelodysplastic syndrome or "MDS". I read up on it and thought I understood this to be a precursor to leukemia. With no medical background, I imagined that his condition might not be life-threatening, at least not now. Still, the only communcation I was allowed to have was to pass messages that would be screened. I thought to say, "I hope you're allergic to cats because you are now!" I figured, aside from allergies not working that way, lack of information about his condition could make it inappropriate so I chose to say nothing at all.

My schedule was set, all the permission notes signed, the insurance policy was set. I was going to go get my physical on the 7th to confirm I was capable of donating and the donation was to happen October 20th. A 4 to 5 hour procedure where all of my blood would exit one arm, pass through a machine and return to my other arm. Not a big deal.

I mentioned it before, "Important". We use that word all the time but really, what is important? About a decade ago, in a job interview, a VP asked me, "What was the most important decision you ever made?" I mean, wow. What a question! I remember sitting there near speechless. I know I said something but can't remember what. What I do remember was the realization that no matter what I said that day didn't really matter. I hadn't actually had an "important decision" to make. School is important, sure. What choice did I have? Work is important if you like money. Pocketing the 9ball at hill-hill in the finals is nice. Some might say important but is it really? What impact did any of this have? Sadly, it was that day I realized I never did anything and hadn't really done anything since. This donation was a moment to change that.

So yesterday, I got that call. I felt so selfish for feeling disappointed but honestly, that was my initial reaction. I wanted this. It all felt so confusing for me because I saw myself doing this. I envisioned it happening and because of my contribution, this person leading a normal life. I didn't like thinking about it as "saving a life" because all I had to do was supply the material - doctors would do the saving. It was my honor just to be a part of it. I could finally say I did something important.

So I pray he's in a better place. Perhaps my part in this gave him hope, maybe allowed him to leave this world knowing that even strangers care. Maybe it gave his family and friends something to wish for until now. Perhaps that was what my role here was meant to be.

My condolences to the family of the 41 year old male,

Donor #*****
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  1. Old Comment
    Great Post Jude, you should forward that on to the bone marrow folk. It's the sort of thing that would be good for their website in terms of recruitment.

    I sent in my DNA samples a few months back in response to a drive (it wasn't as personal, although it was something local, I don't remember the specifics).

    It felt good to be added to the list on the off chance I can help someone else out.
    Posted 10-01-2009 at 11:46 AM by juggler314 juggler314 is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Amazing story!! Giving unselfishly is the true meaning of life...if, by chance, someday, our paths cross, I know I would be the better for it...this world could sure use more like ya Jude!!
    Posted 03-16-2011 at 04:53 PM by Ky Boy Ky Boy is offline
  3. Old Comment
    JoeyA's Avatar
    Good lord, Jude. You posted this almost a year and a half ago and if it weren't for my friend DocHutch visiting Society Billiards today I might never have read this. Doc is impressed with the pool room. He likes it very much. Says there are lots of things to like about it. Anyway, I see you haven't visited the forum for several months now. Hope everything is going well for you. You get JoeyA's "Two thumbs up" for the bone marrow donation and the blog story. Positive thoughts for you and yours.
    Posted 05-24-2011 at 04:33 PM by JoeyA JoeyA is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Delusional's Avatar
    WOW. Story Hit me i will tell you. Thank You......
    Posted 12-07-2011 at 01:04 PM by Delusional Delusional is offline
  5. Old Comment
    catpool9's Avatar
    Jude , I know you wrote this blog some 3 1/2 years ago, I found it today while searching the new AZB setup , I must say you write very well, and I was touched by what you said, I hope one day I can do something IMPORTANT in my life such as you have by caring enough to give to someone you never knew!

    David Harcrow
    Posted 05-13-2013 at 07:17 PM by catpool9 catpool9 is offline

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