Ronald Reagan Sailor Gives the Gift of Life


Story Number: NNS030227-02Release Date: 2/26/2003 10:15:00 PM
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By Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Chad McNeeley, PCU Ronald Reagan Public Affairs

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (NNS) -- Stories of heroes who help save people from life-threatening dangers make their way into newspapers, magazines, and onto TV and radio news broadcasts everyday. The ones who are rescued are full of praise for their "savior." Sometimes, the connection is so strong that they become friends for life.

Recently, a hero has emerged from the crew of PCU Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). He helped a stranger in the middle of a life-threatening illness - cancer.

In November, Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class Michael Griffioen received a call from a Department of Defense Bone Marrow Program representative. "I was told there was a one-in-10 chance that I was a match for a patient undergoing chemotherapy and in need of a bone marrow transplant," said Griffioen, who has been in the bone marrow registry for nearly 10 years.

The national odds for a bone marrow match are one in 20,000. Although the match was narrowed to one in 10, he still had to have more extensive testing to determine his health status, potential risks and most importantly, if he was an exact match.

"The biggest thing that I keep hearing is that this procedure is very uncomfortable," Griffioen said. "I couldn't justify saying no because I'm going to be uncomfortable. To say, 'I'm not going to give a child another chance,' isn't a good excuse."

When the test results indicated he was a match, Griffioen said he never had second thoughts about going through the process. "I just think about the kids," Griffioen explained. "For anyone who has kids or takes care of kids, I don't know how they could say no."

Griffioen and his wife traveled to Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., at the bone marrow program's expense in December 2002 - the day before the procedure.

The day of surgery, Griffioen was put under a general anesthesia. Surgeons then inserted long needles into the back of the hipbone to remove the spongy fluid. The bone marrow harvesting procedure is a relatively simple one, lasting only an hour or two. Using the same entry point multiple times to minimize wounds, the surgeon will remove marrow until the appropriate amount is drawn.

To determine the amount of marrow needed from each donor, a sample is taken during the operation and T-cells are counted. The level of T-cells and the body size of the recipient determine the amount of marrow needed. Normally, an average-sized adult will donate between one and two liters. The body will replace the marrow removed over time.

It will be more than a year, if ever, before he knows anything about the "someone" he helped. Donors and recipients are required to remain anonymous for one year following the procedure, according to Paula Faria, senior media specialist for the Marrow Donor Program at Georgetown. "The reason for the anonymity is to prevent the possible personal guilt in the donor if the transplant fails," she said.

"It is very difficult when you are dealing with life-and-death situations, to keep an objective point-of-view," Faria continued. "It's still a big tug on your heart, even not knowing who the recipient is."

This year, the American Cancer Society estimates 30,600 people will be diagnosed with leukemia, a disease that can be cured with a bone marrow transplant.

While many of those afflicted wait for a transplant, for one unknown individual, Griffieon has made all the difference in the world.

For related news, visit the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn76.

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