SJAFB bone marrow drive sets sights on matches, saving lives
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on September 26, 2012 1:46 PM
Amber Millerchip has been on the receiving end of a shocking diagnosis.
"I had a brand new baby," she said. "I didn't know if I was going to live."
So when she learned that the son and daughter of Chief Master Sgt. Richard Simonsen -- a friend and fellow airman -- were battling Dyskeratosis Congenita, a progressive bone marrow failure syndrome, the Air Force captain decided to take action.
"Luckily, my daughter is healthy," she said. "So whatever I can do for Chief Simonsen or, bigger picture, my fellow airmen and military service members, I'm going to do."
So she enlisted help from the CW Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program -- vowing to ensure a successful bone marrow drive would unfold inside the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base gates.
And she recruited a compelling partner to help her execute the event -- a 4th Fighter Wing airman who saved a little girl's life less than a year ago.
Tech. Sgt. Justin King knows something about pulling off a successful drive.
He coordinated a similar effort on the Goldsboro installation last year.
"We got approximately 900 registrants," he said.
And when, a few months later, he was deployed to the Middle East, he was asked to organize a bone marrow drive in the desert.
"We got another approximately 500 registrants over there," he said.
But his experience is about far more than his ability to bring people out to provide four oral swabs to the DOD registry.
"Right along the same time, I ended up getting an e-mail from the DOD bone marrow program notifying me that I was a potential match -- that I had to get some more bloodwork done," King said.
And when he was released from his deployment a month early "just due to the mission requirements," he was met, at home, by an e-mail that delivered some overwhelming news.
"It pretty much said that I was the perfect match," King said.
He would end up traveling to Georgetown University and, ultimately, donating his bone marrow.
"Anything they asked of me I did voluntarily and with pleasure. I didn't even think twice about any of it," King said. "The way I looked at it was that I had been given an opportunity to potentially save a life. It didn't matter who it was for or where they were at. I would hope somebody would do the same for me."
And when he woke from surgery, he learned about the little girl who would, thanks to him, have hope.
"By the time I woke up from the anesthesia, the bone marrow that they harvested from my body was already on a plane with a courier heading to my match," he said. "Low and beyond, she's actually a little 1-year-old girl that was in Sweden. ... It brings a smile to your face knowing that, at least for now, you've given someone a second chance at life."
Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Seymour Johnson airmen, retirees, civilians and dependents with Department of Defense identification cards will converge on the Base Exchange to register.
And Millerchip hopes that one of them will be a match for her friend's 14-year-old son, Seth.
But that teenager is not the only child the DOD program is seeking a match for.
"So let's do what we can do," the captain said.
He might not know, like the woman organizing the drive, what it's like to be on the receiving end of a cancer diagnosis, but he lives, every day, with the feeling that comes with saving a life -- providing a second chance to an innocent.
"I had zero hesitation. I would do it again tomorrow. I would do it today," he said. "So if you're gonna do it, do it. Do it for the right reasons. This is another opportunity to step back ... and to potentially give life."