USS Harry S. Truman Sailor Donates Bone Marrow

Story Number: NNS091106-15Release Date: 11/6/2009 4:28:00 PM
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By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Danna Morris, USS Harry S. Truman Public Affairs

USS HARRY S. TRUMAN, At sea (NNS) -- A Sailor on board USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) extended his display of the Navy's fighting spirit beyond the bulkheads of his ship and into the life of someone he has never met.

Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 1st Class (AW/SW) Erwin Martin donated his bone marrow stem cells to a 15-year-old boy diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome in August. Myelodysplastic Syndrome, formerly known as preleukemia, is a bone marrow stem cell disorder that adversely affects blood cell production and can lead to death.

Martin participated in a National Bone Marrow Registry drive aboard Truman during which Truman's Medical Department gathered cells from inside his mouth to test his bone marrow type.

Truman has held two bone marrow drives in recent years, and Truman Sailors have been very receptive.

"Our commanding officer and executive officer at the time made a video that aired on Truman's Shipboard Information Training and Entertainment television system to educate the crew on what the testing process includes," said Truman's Medical Affairs Officer, Lt. Anthony Coleman. "There is a huge misconception that the only way to donate bone marrow is by having that huge scary needle inserted into your hipbone. Thanks to modern technology, that is no longer the case."

Sailors interested in becoming donors can go to medical and have four swabs taken from inside each cheek. Those swabs will then be sent to the National Registry to be analyzed as matches. The test results are kept in a database and analyzed by medical professionals to match donors with people in need of the stem cells.

Martin learned he was a match for the boy he helped while he was underway.

"My wife emailed me about receiving a letter from the National Donor Program, notifying me of being a possible match for bone marrow," said Martin. "I didn't know what the procedure entailed, but I told her to contact them and tell them I was interested."

After Martin was notified of being a possible match, he completed three sets of blood work at Sewell's Point Medical Clinic before traveling to Fairfax, Va., Aug. 2 to complete a physical.

"On Aug. 12, my wife, infant daughter and I flew up for the donor procedure," said Martin. "The day after I arrived I began receiving daily injections of the drug filgrastim at the donor center."

Martin received the filgrastim injections for five days to pull the bone marrow stem cells into his blood stream. While the injections themselves were painless, the effects of the drug were less than pleasant.

"The drug gave me muscle aches, joint pains and headaches," said Martin. "The side effects were worse on the third day of injections."

"After a few days of the medication, they hook you up to a machine, with needles in each arm," said Coleman. "From one arm, the blood comes out of your body and enters a machine that separates the platelets from the blood and then pumps the blood back into your body through your other arm. This is exactly how the bone marrow is extracted."

Coleman is very proud to be a part of a crew of Sailors so willing to give a part of themselves, even while not in the line of duty.

As for Martin, his reasoning was simple.

"If you have a chance to save a life, don't hesitate to do it," said Martin. "In the last year, God blessed my wife and I with a baby girl who was three months premature. My decision was simple. Someone was in need of marrow stem cells to extend their life, and I was able to do it."

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