Elizabeth Filkins of Antwerp was inspired to join the National Marrow Donor database because a friend of a friend was battling cancer.
She joined Be The Match in 2010, pledging to donate her bone marrow or stem cells to help a stranger. Three years later, she was matched with a 61-year-old man in Kentucky, whom she met more than a year after his transplant.
Bone marrow transplants are used to treat leukemias and lymphomas, inherited immune system or metabolic disorders, bone marrow diseases such as severe aplastic anemia, multiple myeloma and diseases such as sickle cell, in which the red blood cells function poorly.
Donors take a series of injections of a drug that boosts the growth of stem cells before they make their donation. Filkins received her final injections and made her donation at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, where an apheresis machine separated her blood from her stem cells.
The recipient received Filkins’ cells a couple of days later in Kentucky. Filkins told the Watertown Daily Times that Be the Match officials were intermediaries. They let her know the man went home from the hospital and was doing well, and they passed along a hat that Filkins knitted for him while she took the injections.
Eventually, the two connected.
In April, Filkins and her family drove to Kentucky to meet the man who received her cells. She met many of his relatives, too. “Every single one of them were whispering in my ear: “Thank you for giving us more time with him.’ ”
This article appears in the fall 2015 issue of Cancer Care magazine.