A simple test was all it took for an Airman…to give the gift of life

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt Karen J. Tomasik
  • kdiei
Many servicemembers know that donating blood can help others, but there’s another way that can make an even greater difference in someone’s life – donating bone marrow.

A staff sergeant from the 730th Air Mobility Squadron did just that, recently returning to full duty only two weeks after the procedure.

“I originally signed up at a registry drive when I was stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.,” said Staff Sgt. Roy Eilenstine. “They took a sample for the national registry and called me back after five years when they thought I was a match for someone.

” The C-5 Galaxy/C-17 Globemaster II aircraft crew chief was called back in the beginning of April to provide more samples to narrow down if he was the best possible match for a patient with leukemia, lymphoma or other blood diseases.

“The process of narrowing down a donor match can take anywhere from seven to 12 additional samples, and I provided several more samples through the beginning of May,” said Sergeant Eilenstine.

After the sergeant learned he was the best possible match, he was sent on permissive temporary duty to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., for the actual donation procedure.

“Altogether the procedure only lasted five hours total, from the time they started the general anesthesia to moving me to recovery,” said the sergeant. “It was nice that my wife was able to take leave from her job to be able to be with me before and after the procedure.”

Although doctors warned Sergeant Eilenstine of possible pain after the procedure, the sergeant said he only ever felt a little bit sore during the two-week recovery period following his donation.

“I was put on a profile for the initial recovery period that restricted me from lifting anything over 50 pounds but since May 15, I’ve been back to work like normal,” said Sergeant Eilenstine. “Since I’m responsible for a variety of maintenance on the aircraft transiting through Yokota I couldn’t wait to be off the profile and back to working on the flightline.” The sergeant’s donation has earned much respect from co-workers and supervisors who made sure he could get to Georgetown University for the procedure.

“I recognized the opportunity Sergeant Eilenstine had to save another person’s life after working with a great individual at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D.,” said Tech. Sgt. Gerald Best, 730th AMS expediter and Sergeant Eilenstine’s supervisor. “This Airman’s sister was diagnosed with acute leukemia and I saw the issues that came up trying to find a donor match for her. It’s not common for a match to be found, especially from a sibling, but he was able to donate marrow to his sister. So I think it’s great that Sergeant Eilenstine was able to provide a chance to someone he may never meet.”

Sergeant Best spread word the Ellsworth Airman’s story to others in the squadron before Sergeant Eilenstine left for the procedure so they would understand the importance of donating bone marrow. He hopes his story will inspire others to register in the bone marrow program.

“This is a pretty big deal,” said Sergeant Best. “It’s a rare occurrence to actually find a match.”

As part of the donation process, the bone marrow donor or patient can initiate a request to contact the other member one year after the transplant is complete.

“I haven’t made a decision to contact the recipient or not,” said Sergeant Eilenstine. “Right now I think both of us are glad the program worked to match us. I’ll probably decide closer to the one year point.”

Sergeant Eilenstine’s decision to donate came only six months after losing his own grandmother to cancer, and now he’s taken the opportunity to offer someone another chance at life.

“I hope that others decide to donate because this is a worthy cause,” said Sergeant Eilenstine. “If asked to donate again, I would in a heartbeat.”

To become a bone marrow donor, donors must donate $52 to cover the cost of the kit and the tests (tax deductible), bring the kit to the hospital for the testing, and then mail the completed kit back to the address provided. For more information about the National Bone Marrow Program or to order a donor kit, visit www.marrow.org.