Health & Safety

October 3, 2013

Stem cells cultivate new family

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Airman 1st Class Betty R. Chevalier
355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
(Courtesy photo)
Tech. Sgt. Justin Slater, 48th Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment technician, donates stem cells at Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington D.C. in late Feburary 2013.Slater was identified as a match, 10 years after giving a donor sample as an Airman 1st Class stationed at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. 10 years ago.

There comes a time when you have the option to save a life. You might have the chance to pull someone from a burning building, prevent a suicide or just maybe, give part of yourself to a stranger. Tech Sgt. Justin Slater had the chance to do just that.

Ten years ago at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., the Airmen held a bone marrow drive to see if anyone was an available match for an Airman that was diagnosed with leukemia.

Then, Airman 1st Class Justin Slater, 60th Equipment Maintenance Squadron, gave a sample to see if he was a potential match. Unfortunately, he was not.

At that time, Airman Slater was unaware that even though he was not a match, his sample would be entered into the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Morrow Donor Program.

“In October, I got a phone call telling me I was a preliminary match for a patient with leukemia,” said Tech. Sgt. Justin Slater, 48th Rescue Squadron aircrew flight equipment technician. “I had no idea I was put into the registry.”

The DoD Donor Program sent a blood kit to the base clinic to obtain blood from Slater, in order to see if he was a perfect match. Shortly afterwards, Slater was deployed.

During his deployment, Slater received an email notifying him he was a match and they wanted to use him for the donation.

After reading the email, he wanted to donate immediately.

“I wanted to fly back that day,” Slater said. “When you know a person is depending on you, you want to do whatever you can to help right away. I got very anxious, but I knew there was a process that had to happen before I could actually donate.”

A month later, he headed to Washington D.C. for a full physical and more blood tests at Georgetown University Medical Center.

“I was only at Georgetown for one day while they did all the tests,” Slater said. “The next day I flew back to my deployed location. About two or three weeks later, my coordinator at the DoD Donor Program called me and set up a date for me to fly back for the donation.”

Slater kept leadership involved from the beginning so when he was notified, his superiors and family were very supportive. He flew back to the states in late February where he met up with his wife in Washington D.C. to start the donation process.

Slater provided a peripheral blood stem cell donation. This donation happens over a five day time span, and takes stem cells instead of bone morrow with little pain.

“The first thing that happened was they gave me a shot of a drug called filgrastim every morning,” Slater said. “Filgrastim basically causes your body to produce an excess amount of stem cells, so when they remove the cells for donation, they are not depleting your whole system.”

Slater received these shots four mornings in a row. On the fifth day, after the last shot of filgrastim, they took the donation.

“They laid me down and a hooked up a needle to my arm,” Slater said. “The blood came out of one arm and passed through a machine that filtered out the stem cells from the rest of the blood. The blood was then pumped back into my body through my other arm.”

The whole process took about four hours, Slater said.

“After it was done, it was like a scene from a movie,” Slater said. “The nurse made a phone call saying the donation was ready and this lady came in with a cooler, took the blood and left. It was a good feeling because I knew the recipient would have the donation that day.”

Since the donation was international, he is not permitted to meet the recipient for two years, unlike state-side which is only a year. For now, he is allowed to send mail, but there are specific restrictions.

“As of now, I can’t let her know much about me,” Slater said. “She can’t know what I do or have any information that could reveal who I am.”

So far, he is awaiting news from the coordinator on the recipient’s condition, but the coordinator has told him that no news is good news.

“I would like to meet her one day,” Slater said. “She is the same age as my mom. Plus she has my DNA, so it’s kind of like she is family.”

This donation has made a big impact on Slater. After 10 years, he was needed and was more than happy to donate.

“In this situation, it was a lot of coordination,” Slater said. “But knowing that the whole process gave her hope for a second chance at a healthy life made it all worth it.”

For more information about donating marrow visit www.dodmarrow.org or www.bethematch.org.




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(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Betty R. Chevalier)

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