Bone marrow donor: Just doing the right thing to save lives

May 9, 2014 | by

Signing up to be a bone marrow donor, being selected as a match, undergoing blood tests, then driving 180 miles for the procedure, all for someone she never met, does not a hero make – not in Antonia Klyn’s book.

George Winston and bone marrow donor Antonia Klyn

Bone marrow donor Antonia Klyn receives a gift of CDs from musician George Winston at the 38th annual Bone Marrow Reunion on Friday, May 9, at City of Hope. Photo credit: Bob Riha Jr.

“Our modern medicine offers so many possibilities, we have to use them,” says the matter-of-fact 22-year-old college student, who lives in Lauteral, Germany. “In my opinion, healthy people should help ill people … I’m happy that I did this, but I don’t see myself as a lifesaver or something.”

At least one person would disagree: The man she saved nearly 6,000 miles away.

Until today, Klyn knew only that she was a close match for an adult man who badly needed a bone marrow transplant. The rest, she says, was simply a matter of doing the right thing.

Klyn is studying media and theater science at the Friedrich Alexander University in Erlangen-Nürnberg. Several years ago, she’d heard news reports about the need for bone marrow donors, and the next time she donated blood, she signed up to be a blood marrow donor.

“I don’t have relatives or friends with cancer,” she said. “I just thought it’s the right thing to do. I’m a young, healthy woman, and I wanted to help somebody who needs my help. And, of course, I know that there is always the possibility that someone in my family or one of my friends gets ill. If that would happen, I would hope that there is a donor.” About a year later, she was informed that she was a match for someone who needed a bone marrow transplant. Her family accompanied her on the 180-mile trip to Munich, where a team of health care workers harvested the precious blood and bone marrow cells. Klyn said that, although her mother was a little worried, she was able to reassure her that the procedure would be simple and safe. Mostly, she said, her friends and family were simply curious – and tremendously supportive.

“They were actually proud and honored my decision,” she said. Donors and patients remain anonymous to each other for at least a year after the procedure, but during that time, she received a letter from the still-unnamed man who had received her bone marrow, thanking her. That letter was her connection to a man she often wondered about – how he was doing, who he was, what kind of work he does.

On May 9, she found out that man was George Winston, a musician with more than 20 albums to his name and now, because of her, has the opportunity to make many more.

When she met him at City of Hope’s Celebration of Life 38th annual Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion, she was finally able to put a face and name to the more abstract idea that she’d saved someone’s life. Today, more than ever, Klyn is a firm proponent of enrollment on a bone marrow registry.

“Some people still think that this donation is a huge surgery which can be pretty complicated – and it’s not,” she said. “And I think a lot of people believe that the possibility that they are potential match is too small. So they don’t even try.”

Even for Klyn, attending the reunion was eye-opening. Meeting the man she'd helped, wandering among thousands of others saved by donors like herself, and hearing about the more than 12,000 patients who had received transplants at City of Hope, Klyn finally truly understood what a difference a single donor can make.

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