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Brockport student George Wasickanin donates bone marrow to save a person's life

By Krista Thresh editor-in-chief
On December 5, 2011

  • Brockport senior George Wasickanin undergoes the painful process of donating bone marrow to save a stranger’s life. Submitted by Suzanne Haussner

"If you can save someone's life, always take the opportunity, because you never know when [something] could happen to your family or even you," Brockport senior George Wasickanin said.

When Wasickanin passed by a bone marrow donation table in the Seymour Union during the fall 2010 semester, he didn't realize his next move would lead to saving a person's life.

"I started talking to the guy at the table (for Be The Match, a bone marrow donation organization) … and I decided I wanted to try it out," Wasickanin said. "It was a one-in-1,000 chance [I] would get picked, I was told."

At the table, Wasickanin had to swab his gums with four cotton swabs so Be The Match could match his DNA to a possible recipient. The organization said they would call him if they found a match, which Wasickanin said is very rare.

He's a match

In July 2011, Wasickanin, a military science minor, attended army camp for Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC). At this point, he had signed up for Be The Match almost a year earlier. While he was at army camp, he decided to sign up for the Department of Defense's (DOD) bone marrow program as well, but in the same month he was contacted by Be The Match, and was told the organization found him to be a match for a woman who needed his bone marrow.

However, since he signed up for the program though the DOD, he was no longer a part of Be The Match and had to do the donation through the DOD program instead.

"This complicated things considerably because I could have done it (donated) right here in Rochester, but everything had to go through Washington D.C.," Wasickanin said. "It was just so much harder that way."

After Wasickanin found out he was selected out of the more than 8 million people on the national bone marrow donation list, he had to get a lot of blood work done, and he also had to get an Electrocardiography (EKG), which is a test to check the electrical activity of your heart, and a chest scan to make sure he was healthy enough to donate.

When the tests were done, he was chosen for the bone marrow donation. The 48-year-old woman from the Netherlands who received Wasickanin's bone marrow has non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. She had to be in remission to receive his bone marrow.

After about five months of tests to prepare for the bone marrow procedure, he and his recipient coordinated a time when he was able to donate and she was able to receive his donation. He said it had to be precise because the recipient had to receive his bone marrow within hours of it being extracted from his body.

"She has to get it (his bone marrow) within a couple of hours, so I couldn't back out, otherwise she would have died," Wasickanin said. "They have to kill her immune system and all her cells in order for her to receive my cells. The cool thing about that is she gets my immune system, she gets my blood type, she gets my allergies and anything else to do with blood. So basically her DNA is my DNA."

Wasickanin was worried about finding a time when he could fit the donation into his schedule because he is taking 20 credits this semester. The procedure was set for Tuesday, Nov. 22 during his Thanksgiving break.

"This might sound ignorant to some, but I didn't want to research it (the procedure)," Wasickanin said. "I didn't want to research it too much because I didn't want to get scared. I told them I'll donate  and that's what I was going to do. I didn't want second thoughts in my head."

The donation procedure took place at Georgetown University.

Without researching, Wasickanin and his friend Suzanne Haussner were flown to Washington D.C. Friday, Nov. 18 by the DOD program. They were each given $50 a day for food and stayed in a hotel paid for by the program.

When he arrived at the city, he was brought to the Apheresis Center at Georgetown University Hospital, where the medical staff began to inject him with drugs to stimulate the growth of his bone marrow and stem cells in his blood stream. Wasickanin said he needed five of those injections each day until the procedure Tuesday, Nov. 22.

"Every day at 9 a.m. I'd get two shots in each arm," Wasickanin said. "They burned. It was a big needle. The side effects (of the drug) were somewhat nasty. The ones that happened to me were very bad headaches, my neck would stiff up, fever, a little bit of nausea, hot flashes and cold chills, my lower back would get very stiff and a little bit of insomnia. After the drugs kicked in, I was hurting for a while. Thanksgiving wasn't that enjoyable."

Wasickanin said during the first few days, he and Haussner were able to walk around Washington D.C. and sight-see. However, he said he didn't have a choice because he needed to keep his body moving and his blood flowing or his body would stiffen because of the drugs.

The two walked about 13 miles a day, he said, and he brought a lot of water to stay hydrated. He said since the injections caused him to have more cells in his blood, it's easy to get a blood clot if he isn't hydrated enough.

"[I] could just feel the blood slowing down," Wasickanin said. "It was harder for it to move through the veins. [I] could feel it in [my] head and it hurt … It sounds like it was a bad procedure, but it really wasn't. Now that I think back, it was easy, but there were a couple days that were rough."

Wasickanin said if the recipient doesn't take well to his cells or needs more, he could be asked to donate again. He said although his mother and grandmother were against him donating in the first place, he would donate again because he said he wants to do all he can to save a life.

"I would hope if someone in my family had the same problem, needed bone marrow or stem cells, someone would be kind enough to give them a second chance at life," Wasickanin said.

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