Bone marrow donor: Become a real-life hero — like me

October 7, 2013 | by

Shawn Ahdoot recentley donated his bone marrow to a patient at City of Hope and hopes to encourage minorites to sign up and help save a life. Photo courtesy of Shawn Ahdoot.

Shawn Ahdoot hopes to encourage minorities to sign up and help save a life. Photo courtesy of Shawn Ahdoot.

Growing up, Shawn Ahdoot wanted to be just like the superheroes he saw on television, helping save lives. So as an adult, that’s what he did: He signed up to become a bone marrow donor.

And then he waited. He went about living the normal life of a 19-year-old: Attended classes at California State University, Northridge, worked independently as an email marketer and then graduated with a degree in marketing in 2011. Soon after, he became the marketing director for Colocation America — a company dedicated to server hosting and search engine optimization — and an agent for Total-Apps.

A few months ago, the call came. He learned his marrow was a match for that of a cancer patient struggling with leukemia. Despite his almost paralyzing fear of needles, Ahdoot came through.

“What people don’t realize is that they have a chance to put the cape on and answer the call,” said Ahdoot in an interview recently, a few days after his donation. “They have a chance to be a hero, something that many feel they can’t do because of their natural human strength. But what they don’t realize is that natural human strength along with their bone marrow can be the difference between life and death.”

Ahdoot had registered with Be The Match registry, which now has more than 9 million members. For people with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphomas, sickle cell anemia and other life-threatening diseases, donations of blood marrow are vital.

Because of his Iranian descent, Ahdoot’s registration was especially valuable. Minorities make up only 25 percent of the registry, says Cheekswab, an organization that encourages their participation. As a result, minorities have only a 66 to 73 percent chance of finding a matching donor through the registry, which is considerably lower than that of Caucasians, who have a 93 percent chance of finding a match.

“This is one of the reasons I wanted to sign up,” said Ahdoot. “My community needs someone that will have a voice. I’m just so fortunate to be one of the few and go through this surgery and say, ‘Hey, I’m OK.  When are you going to sign up?’”

When it was time to actually undergo the bone marrow donation procedure, Ahdoot even wore a superhero cape and shirt. His nervousness about needles and his squeamishness about blood aside, he never had any doubt that he would go through with the procedure.

“Was I afraid of having surgery?” Ahdoot said in his personal blog. “Of course I was. Yet all my fears and reservations dissolved into a state of calm when I entered the hospital. From anxiety to tranquility, the transformation was unbelievable.”

Beforehand, when doubt or worry crept into his mind, Ahdoot reminded himself that the patient he was helping was going through a lot more pain than he would have to endure.

“I think about that patient; I try to visualize who that person is, imagining what these upcoming days must be like, the journey that brought us together and the anxiety (at least on my part) as we both experience something so extraordinary and powerful,” Ahdoot said in his blog.

Through his experience as a bone marrow donor, Ahdoot has become a vocal advocate for the cause. He hopes to convince others —especially minorities in his community— to register and become a bone marrow donor through Be The Match.

“It is natural to be afraid of surgery, even concerning the most mundane sort of operation, but I implore you not to avoid the chance to save someone's life, or the one opportunity you may have to save your own,” Ahdoot said in his blog. “Fear is a natural instinct. Courage is not. Otherwise, the world would be filled with heroes. We have the ability to transcend fear. I did and you can too.”

To become a bone marrow donor and help save a life, register at Be The Match.