11/18/12 — Student becomes bone marrow donor

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Student becomes bone marrow donor

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 18, 2012 1:50 AM

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Ellen Elmore, a graduate of Wayne Country Day School and now a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, is hooked up to machines at the UNC medical facility in Chapel Hill where she was a recent bone marrow donor.ê¼

When Ellen Elmore first signed up to become a bone marrow donor, she knew it was a longshot that she would ever get a response.

"From the people I talked to, it would be pretty rare for you to get called. People stay in the registry for, like, 15 years," she said. "I think I did it like July a year ago. When I got my first call, I hadn't been in the registry for a year yet."

In fact, the call that she was a match came a mere eight months after she submitted the required four cotton swabs in the kit sent to her in the mail.

"You swab inside of each cheek and send it back," she said of bethematch.org. "They enter you into a registry and you just wait."

Ms. Elmore is from Goldsboro. She was co-valedictorian of her graduating class at Wayne Country Day School in 2009 and made her debut at the N.C. Debutante Ball the following year.

Now a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in political science and Spanish, she is also president of her sorority, Sigma Sigma Sigma.

"Chapel Hill has a lot of bone marrow drives on campus, so it's not something that's uncommon," she said, adding that because of that, the college officials were most understanding when she informed them that she would miss class for the procedure.

It was scheduled for Aug. 31, the day after her 21st birthday.

"When they called her and said they had a match, and told her the date, she said, 'That's wonderful. That's the day after my 21st birthday,'" recalls her mom, local Realtor, Gay Elmore. "She delayed celebrating her birthday for a week."

The process was relatively simple and not as physically imposing as many might think.

"I bounced back pretty quickly," Ms. Elmore said of the stem cell transplant. "It was a long process in that I had to go down and have 12 tubes of blood taken, do all these tests, make sure I was 100 percent healthy. I had like a week of shots. They made you feel like when you're getting the flu. All that was just forcing those stem cells out of my bones into my bloodstream.

"By the time I left I was like achy. I was tired of being hooked up to a machine for six hours. You don't realize how bad it's going to hurt to have your arm locked into a position and not move it for six hours."

They also gave her a blood thinner and calcium injections or Tums throughout, she said.

"You still get a little tingly," she admitted. "That's because of the low calcium level. I thought I was going to be able to move a lot more than I could. But you can't get out of bed."

All in all, it went well, she said.

"They say it takes from four to six hours. I got to the hospital at 7:45, got hooked up at 8:45 and didn't get out until 3," she said.

Except for the stipulation that bone marrow donors cannot give blood for eight weeks afterwards, she said it is not uncommon to have a smooth recovery period.

"From what I hear, it just feels like you have lifted something really heavy and you've pulled your back," she said. "They recommend rest and lots of water to get you hydrated.

"I would say within 48 hours I was back to my normal pace. I was a little sluggish, had a weird reaction to the calcium. My process was a little longer. But I was back in class Monday and back at work Sunday. Within a week you couldn't tell I had done it."

While physically she is fine, it is definitely something she will not soon forget.

"I think it increased a lot of awareness to the program within my friends and sorority," she says now. "They all knew. I had to miss a round of recruitments.

"I think the biggest part for me is increasing the awareness (of donating). It's not hard to do, it's easy to do."

Even though the identity of the recipient is kept confidential, Ms. Elmore said there is a bond she now feels whenever she meets someone that was a donor or a recipient.

"I would love to be able to talk to recipients, like, 'Hey, I was a donor,' but that process is a little difficult due to the nature of the patients," she said. "A lot of donors call the day that they did their transplant their second birthday. A lot of people when I talk about it, the second they hear bone marrow transplant, they're like, 'Whoa!

"It was so easy. If there were other things that were this easy to save somebody's life, it's just incredible to me. ... If I had leukemia or needed it, I would hope someone would do it for me."

It's certainly nothing she would ever pressure anyone to do, she said. But that won't stop her from sharing her own experience to encourage others to consider signing up like she did, with bethematch.org.

"You've got to do it out of the goodness of your heart," she said. "No one can tell you to. You've got to make that decision. I guess it's just made me feel like I've done something that's literally changed someone's life and it couldn't have been more easy to do.

"We always hear about donating to this, giving money to that. Hey, get hooked up to a machine and save someone's life! That's a no-brainer. Or to me it's a no-brainer."